Serena Williams a hit in Mamaroneck
By Harold Gutmann
The Journal News • July 11, 2008
MAMARONECK - Though the Sportimes have been in Mamaroneck for only six years, they've managed to attract some of the best women's tennis players in recent history.
Of the seven women who have won at least five Grand Slam tournaments since 1985, five have played World TeamTennis at Harbor Island Park - Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Venus Williams and now Serena Williams.
A sellout crowd of 1,213 welcomed Serena to Mamaroneck last night as the Sportimes hosted her Washington Kastles.
"It's funny to see Serena here," said 1986 Mamaroneck High School graduate Igor Milkja, who brought his wife and daughter. "I used to play tennis and I never thought that I would see someone like that here. It's good having such famous players mingling with an ordinary crowd."
After receiving a key to the city from Village of Mamaroneck mayor Kathy Savolt, along with a baseball cap and a gift bag, Williams played 2 1/2 shortened sets, winning women's doubles (5-4) and mixed doubles (5-2). She then lost three of four games to Bethanie Mattek before being replaced by teammate Mashona Washington - substitutions are allowed in WTT - and watching the rest of the match with ice on her left knee.
Although it doesn't seem like the 26-year-old Williams would be fazed by anything on a tennis court at this point in her career, Williams claimed before the match that World TeamTennis was challenging.
"It's different to be a part of a team. For me, it's almost too hard, because the pressure I feel if I lose a game," said Williams, who last played WTT in 2000. "I don't remember it being so intense. Every game counts. It's tough for me, but I think I'm getting used to this."
She double-faulted to lose the first game of women's doubles, but won 10 of the next 15 games paired with Washington, and then Justin Gimelstob.
Christine Whilby said she was "thrilled" to see her favorite player up close.
"I can sleep well tonight," the Nanuet resident said.
Bruce Gould of Plainview also left happy.
"It's exciting to see somebody that close," Gould said. "To be able to see the strength and the power and the skill, it's just amazing."
Williams was coming off a loss to Venus in Saturday's Wimbledon final, but said she hadn't had much time to reflect on that match.
"I haven't really had time to stop," Serena said before the match. "I've really been going every day, playing WTT every day, just going, going, going.
But it's been good. I'm just excited to be here.
"Obviously I wish I had won, but there's always next year, and the year after, and the year after, so I look forward to that."
Perhaps the grind caught up with her last night - Washington coach Thomas Blake said her left knee had swollen up during the women's singles. Williams' left knee required surgery in 2003, and has also forced her to miss events each of the past two years.
"She could have kept playing, but we're not looking to shorten her career," Blake said.
The WTT format seems tailor-made for Williams, a rare star who isn't averse to playing doubles - she has a career Grand Slam and a gold medal in the event, and just won Wimbledon with Venus.
"I think it helps my singles game a lot," Williams said. "It helps my return, it helps my serve, and it helps my confidence. It does a lot for you."
But even Williams couldn't stop the Sportimes' hot start - the home team won 21-20 behind Jesse Witten's 5-4 final-set win over Scott Oudsema.
While Williams said this was her first trip to Westchester, Blake was enjoying a homecoming. The 31-year-old, whose younger brother James is currently in the top 10, lived in Yonkers until he was 9 and hit his first tennis balls on Fay Park, off of Riverdale Avenue.
"I know all the tennis people in the area, and so many other people come up and say they knew me, they knew my parents, back when I was young," Blake said. "It's just good to reconnect."
Blake played in the WTT from 2005-06 and is now in his second year as a coach.