July 8, 2008

Paris to D.C.: Serena's long commute for WTT debut

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Three days after losing to her sister in tennis' showcase event, Serena Williams awoke Tuesday morning at her part-time home in Paris. She flew to London, where she had a layover of a few hours, then hopped a trans-Atlantic flight in which she "slept pretty much the whole way." Upon arrival in the nation's capital, she made a brief appearance at a youth tennis clinic and then held a news conference to promote the final duty of her very long day: her debut with the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis.

"It's kind of weird, but I'm still going," said Williams, whose body clock was closing in on midnight at the news conference -- with still a couple of hours to go before she was scheduled to take the court. This was not the usual routine for a professional athlete preparing for competition, but the WTT will take what it can get. The Kastles are the newest franchise in the 11-team league, which began its 33rd season this month, and the team's home matches are played in a temporary, 2,200-seat stadium that has been erected in the middle of a downtown parking lot.

"I'm really elated to be here," Williams said. "I always thought there should be a (women's) tennis tournament here. It's such a big city, and I have a lot of fans here." The match against the Boston Lobsters had been long sold out -- it is scheduled to be Williams' only home appearance with the Kastles this season -- and the intimate atmosphere and multicolored hardcourt were literally and figuratively half a world away from the grass of Centre Court at Wimbledon, where she lost to sister Venus in the grand slam final on Saturday.

"I was really disappointed. ... I've been down already," Williams said. "I'm so excited to play. I've never been so ready to play so fast, after such a big tournament. But I'm definitely ready and I'm looking forward to having a lot of fun out there." Williams last played in WTT in 2000 for the Delaware Smash. She was on the St. Louis Aces roster last year but was unable to complete due to injury. Joining the Kastles comes with a family tie; one of her less famous sisters, Isha, lives in Washington.

The WTT schedule is condensed into three July weeks, with each team boasting a marquee player who will play in at least one home match. Serena Williams is scheduled to play in three of the Kastles' road matches. Other notable names in the league include Andy Roddick, Martina Navtratilova, Lindsay Davenport and Anna Kournikova. And, oh yes, Serena's sister, who plays for the Philadelphia Freedoms.

"That's the beauty of WTT. It attracts a lot of marquee players. Venus Williams, who's won five Wimbledons, I believe," said Williams, stumbling through the thought as if she were still coming to grips with the mixed emotions of losing Saturday's final. "Obviously, I was happy for her," Williams said. "I wouldn't want her to lose any other time -- unless she lost against me."

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