Tuesday, February 24, 2015

World TeamTennis returns to Sacramento

Mark Knowles of the host Sacramento Capitals serves to
  Bob Bryan of the Texas Wild in 2013. Bob and his brother,
Mike, right, played for the San Diego Aviators last season.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   It didn't take long for the Sacramento area to return to World TeamTennis.
   After a one-year absence, a WTT team again will play in a temporary stadium in the parking lot at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights this summer.
   A new ownership group is moving the Texas Wild from the Dallas suburb of Irving to Sacramento, WTT announced Monday. The Wild lasted only two years after relocating from Kansas City, where the Explorers played for 20 years.
   Sacramento's team, formerly the Capitals, will be known as the California Dream. WTT's 40th season will begin July 12 and end on Aug. 2 with the WTT Finals.
   Joining longtime Kansas City/Texas owner Jeff Launius in the new group are Bob Kaliski, the president of the Harbor Point Tennis Club in Mill Valley (across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco), and Michael Malone, a Dallas-based investment banker.
   Launius said the sponsorship of Sunrise MarketPlace for an undisclosed amount and the fans' passion appealed to the Dream's owners. 
   "For so many years, I hated bringing my team to Sacramento because I knew there would be so many fans there going crazy for their team," Launius said in a statement. "I hope they feel the same way about the Dream and come out to support us. This market certainly has fans that know and love World TeamTennis and they deserve a team."
   The franchise is going from the fourth-biggest metropolitan area in the country (6.8 million population) to the 27th (2.2 million). But instead of being a proverbial small fish in a big pond, it will be more the reverse.
   WTT also has left the New York and Los Angeles areas in recent years, although it retains franchises in Philadelphia, Washington and Boston. Those three teams comprise the Eastern Conference. Washington has won the last four WTT titles and five of the last six.
   Residing in the Western Conference, along with California, are San Diego, Springfield (Mo.) and Austin, Texas. This will be Springfield's 20th year in the league and the second for San Diego and Austin. 
   When asked for the Wild's average attendance last season, Launius said in an interview, "Golly, I'd have to go back and look." 
   Playing for Texas last year were Alex Bogomolov Jr. of Russia, Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan, Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain and Darija Jurak of Croatia -- not exactly household names, especially in Texas.
   The Capitals, the longest-running and most decorated WTT franchise, announced last February that they were moving to Las Vegas after 28 years in Sacramento.
   The Capitals hold the record with six WTT championships, including four straight (1997-2000), but mostly struggled on and off the court since its last title in 2007.
   Sacramento reached the 2012 WTT Finals, losing to Washington 20-19 in Charleston, S.C., but slumped to 5-9, the worst record in team history, in 2013. They averaged 1,357 fans for their seven home matches that season, according to then-general manager Kolleen McNamee.
   McNamee cited the lack of a permanent tennis facility as the reason for the move. It cost $125,000 annually to build and dismantle the stadium, said former Capitals owner Lonnie Nielson.
   Four weeks after the Capitals' announcement, WTT disbanded the team when team owner Deepal Wannukuwatte was jailed on charges of defrauding investors in his medical supply business of $109 million. Wannakuwatte, 64, was sentenced in November to 20 years in prison.
   California's roster will be determined in the WTT draft on March 16 in Indian Wells. Possible members, in addition to last year's Texas players, are former Capitals Mark Knowles (43), Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish and Modesto product Maria Sanchez.
   California also must name a coach soon. Brent Haygarth, a South Africa native, coached Kansas City/Texas for the past seven years. Another logical choice would be Knowles, a 12-year WTT veteran (all with Sacramento) and three-time WTT Male MVP.
   Longtime Capitals coach Wayne Bryan, the 68-year-old father of doubles stars Bob and Mike Bryan, stepped down after the 2013 season to spend more time with his family.

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