World Team Tennis eager to play in Las Vegas heat

Sam Querrey has played matches at the Darling Tennis Center where fans wore ski caps, gloves and huddled under blankets.

Now, he’ll get a chance to perform in front of people dressed in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.

Welcome to Mylan World Team Tennis, a July staple on the sports calendar since 1974, which will field a team at the Darling Center — the Las Vegas Neon — triple-digit temperatures be damned.

The Neon, formerly the Sacramento Capitals, will play a 14-match schedule from July 6 to 27. The team, which has been owned by the Wannakuwatte family of Sacramento for the past three years, moved to Las Vegas from California’s capital after 28 years there.

“Yeah, it’ll be hot, but we can use it to our advantage, along with the altitude,” said Querrey, who won the 2008 Tennis Channel Open on Darling’s Stadium Court during a week in February when temperatures dipped into the upper 30s during night matches. “We need to have a fit and strong team.”

According to Neon general manager Kolleen McNamee, the team is in the process of hiring a coach after Wayne Bryan, the former Capitals coach and one of the sport’s biggest ambassadors, decided not to participate this year. The player selection draft will be in two phases — Feb. 11 for the marquee players and March 11 for the roster draft.

Whoever joins Querrey better be tough enough to handle the hot weather.

“It’s certainly a concern,” said WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss, who joined Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman in making the official announcement Tuesday. “We’ll start the matches here later in the evening, around 7:30. But we have franchises in other cities where there’s hot weather, and we’re confident the people of Las Vegas will come out and watch some of the best tennis players in the world.”

Having Querrey, No. 55 in the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings and one of the top American players, is a boon for the Neon in terms of marketing. He is the lone holdover from last year’s team in Sacramento.

“I’ve played it for five, six years, and it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I like the different rules. I like having teammates and having coaching.

“The first year is always the hardest. But if we can get the families to come out, I think it can be successful. I’ll do my share to promote and sell it.”

McNamee said: “He’s a great player and a great person. Sam’s such a great role model for kids. We couldn’t ask for a better person to lead us in Las Vegas.”

Kloss said people who never have seen a WTT match will be surprised at the high level of play.

“World Team Tennis is a very competitive league.” she said. “This is not an exhibition. It’s not a tournament where you’re here for a few days. The players take it very seriously, and they’re out there trying to win.”

The league owns the player contracts, and there’s a salary cap of about $400,000 per team. Players are paid a certain amount guaranteed, plus bonuses and incentive payouts.

McNamee said ticket prices probably will start at $10, and she envisions a family of four being able to attend a Neon match for $50 or less. The Stadium Court seats 3,000.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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