Playing host to the San Diego Aviators at the Greenbrier in West Virginia Thursday, the Chicago Smash sought to wrap up the regular season with a win to end a two-match losing streak.
The Aviators bring up the rear of the nine-team World Team Tennis league, and worse, faced the possibility of ending their season with an eight-match losing skid.
They refused though to roll over for Chicago and forced three 9-point tiebreakers and a super tiebreaker before prevailing. Chicago (9-5), for the second consecutive day dropped the super tiebreaker and lost, 23-22.
The Smash, though, secured the third seed in the four-team playoff. Philadelphia, New York and Orlando also made the playoffs.
The Aviators (4-10) salvaged a split of the season series, after losing, 20-16, on July 20.
With the morning sun casting shadows across the court, men’s doubles – the Aviators’ Jonny O’Mara and Ryan Harrison vs. the Smash’s Rajeev Ram and Brandon Nakashima – ended with a 9-point tiebreaker.
The Aviators sprinted to a 3-1 advantage. Ram’s love-service brought the Smash within 4-3 before a break to knot the game at 4.
San Diego had 2-1 and 4-3 leads in the tiebreak before Chicago took the match 5-4 as O’Mara double-faulted on back-to-back services.
Nakashima and Harrison remained on the court for men’s singles. Facing an 0-2 hole, Nakashima rallied to tie before falling behind 4-2. However, the 18-year-old broke Harrison’s serve to force a 9-point tiebreaker.
Tied at 1, Harrison took four of the next five for the win to knot the match 9-9.
A 9-point tiebreaker also decided mixed doubles. Chicago took a 3-0 lead before the Aviators drew within 4-3. With Bethanie Mattek-Sands serving, the Smash was up 0-40 only to see San Diego scratch back.
Chicago took a 3-1 lead on the strength of a Mattek-Sands rocket return on a serve, then she sealed the match with an overhand smash to give Chicago a 14-13 advantage.
Sloane Stephens took on Christina McHale in women’s singles, and the 2017 U.S. Open champion bookended a 5-2 win by breaking the Aviator’s serve.
In the seventh game, Stephens fell behind 0-30 before Smash coach Kamau Murray called a timeout. That spurred the 27-year-old to break McHale’s serve again to take the match 5-2 and push Chicago to a 19-15 lead.
McHale and Kveta Peschke looked to force extended play against Mattek-Sands and Genie Bouchard in women’s doubles. Tied at 1-1, Peschke’s double fault buoyed the Smash duo to a 3-1 advantage as the Aviators earned a break at 3-all.
The Aviators (4-10) capped a four-game run to earn extended play at 5-3. McHale pulled the Aviators within a point before breaking Bouchard’s serve to set up a super tiebreak at 22-all.
In the 13-point super tiebreak, the sixth of the WTT season, the race to seven points began with Mattek-Sands serves to earn two points. Then McHale evened the game at 2-2.
Mattek-Sands’ serve ended at 5-5 to set up McHale for the final three serves. The Aviators lurched ahead 6-5. At match point, Peschke dropped in the winner for the 23-22 victory.
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