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Team Tennis gives Las Vegas another chance to serve an ace

Updated July 17, 2019 - 5:12 pm

Tennis, anyone?

The infernal question will be asked again of Las Vegas with the arrival of short attention span World Team Tennis. The entire season, consisting of 14 matches per eight teams, is jammed into three weeks. It’s the seven Vegas Rollers outings plus the two-round championship at Orleans Arena — the first two are Saturday and Sunday — that may indicate if the city is capable of supporting pro tennis on a larger scale.

Like Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer, we’ve been here before.

A perception exists that Las Vegas may have already double faulted after building the Darling Tennis Center to attract a tour event, only to have the Tennis Channel Open fold three years after moving to Las Vegas from Scottsdale, Arizona.

From the casual sports fan’s perspective, the tournament’s demise threw shade on Las Vegas’ ability to call itself a tennis town — a notion that one of the valley’s foremost tennis advocates says is many topspin lobs from the truth.

“When I got involved in (local) tennis maybe 20 years ago, we had no national tournaments, we had maybe one nationally ranked tennis player, there was no professional tennis,” said Ryan Wolfington, executive director of the United States Tennis Association’s Nevada district.

“Fast forward to today. We have more national junior tournaments than any city in the world, including the USTA Tennis Center in Orlando (Florida). We have two second-tier professional tournaments. And now we’ve got a professional tennis team.

“Two players on the team, Evan Song and Asia Muhammad, are from Las Vegas. So I think it’s been building and progressing naturally. I think the next step is that we show with World Team Tennis that we can fill a stadium. This weekend I’m going to make a bet that we’re going to have an attendance that’s higher than any team in the league.”

Tennis, anyone? More like tennis everyone. At least that’s the goal, Wolfington said.

Ticket sales encouraging

If the Rollers can attract 3,000 spectators for a CBS nationally televised match against the Philadelphia Freedoms Sunday, it will be a great start.

Wolfington said VIP seats are sold out and cheap seats are going fast. He also said local support of the Tennis Channel Open was fine, at least when the weather was the same.

“If you look back at the pictures, the finals were filled,” he said of a Darling stadium court that seats 3,000. “The finals and semifinals were always full. But at night, it was February and cold as ice.”

Wolfington said brittle weather was a deterrent, but wants the cynical chair umpires to know that attendance was not the reason the tournament left Las Vegas.

“It was because South African Airways was the major sponsor of the ATP, and they did not have a tournament, and they wanted to buy it,” he said. “And the Tennis Channel was looking to get out of the tournament business.”

True that said Mike Bryan, half of the world’s most prolific doubles team. But he also recalled hitting passing shots that had icicles.

“I remember fans bundled up in blankets and beanies with weather in the 40s,” said Bryan, who combined with brother Bob to win two TCOs and will be playing for the Rollers along with his twin this weekend. “It was right after the Aussie Open, too. And then Indian Wells was right around the corner.

“It’s tough to get a really big name out to Vegas right after the Aussie Open — you’re not going to get a big guy like Federer or Nadal or Andy Murray or Djokovic, those type guys. I don’t think American tennis was that super strong when you had like an Agassi or a Sampras to move tickets.”

At least those who purchase tickets won’t have to hold them in mittens or flame retardant gloves at the climate controlled Orleans Arena.

The colorful Bryan brothers have won more professional games, matches, tournaments and grand slams than any men’s doubles team in history. That wasn’t the case when they played in the Tennis Channel Open here more than a decade ago.

“We’ll relish the role of trying to promote the game and make it a big event,” Mike Bryan said. “I think people know who we are. The American tennis fan definitely does. Hopefully they’ll be excited to see us.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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