The Philadelphia Freedoms are about to have one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Players and coaches began arriving last week at The Greenbrier, a luxury resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V. Upon arrival, they were tested before being allowed to practice. Now they’ll encounter an experience that will have them stuck in a bubble for at least the next three weeks for the 2020 World TeamTennis regular season.
“Mixing a lot of different personalities into one venue and pulling together to bid for a title and playing night after night ... that’s going to be interesting to see how the teams pull this off,” Freedoms coach Craig Kardon said.
Freedoms players and coaches arrived separately, but with one common goal. It’s something that Kardon will emphasize throughout the stay. No, it’s not as simple as winning because that’s always the goal. And besides, the Freedoms have done a lot of that. They were the No. 1 overall seed the last two seasons before falling short in the playoffs.
“We have to set an atmosphere of having more fun and not have so much pressure on the expectation of winning,” Kardon said
This year’s squad has the same opportunity. WTT veterans Taylor Townsend, Fabrice Martin, and Donald Young are back. Taylor Fritz is in his fourth WTT season but his first with the Freedoms. The other two newcomers — Caroline Dolehide and Sonya Kenin — bring even more star power.
Martin has established himself as one of the top doubles players in the world, and Townsend has been one of WTT’s best players in her seven-year career, including winning the 2018 WTT Female MVP. Now they are adding Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open champion, and Dolehide, the No. 3-ranked women’s doubles player.
“I’m confident in our team because we have some history together,” Kardon said. “We have three core members of the team and I think we can build off that.”
A relationship has already been established between those core players and the newcomers. They have a group message, and the players are mostly familiar with one another. Townsend played a big role in recruiting Dolehide, and Dolehide grew up playing with Kenin on the junior level.
“Someone like Taylor, she has a lot of experience with the travel and what it was like, so I just talked to her a little bit about that,” Dolehide said.
Playing tennis and going back to a hotel room for three weeks could become exhausting. Kardon said having fun is the biggest goal, and that includes off the court, too. The Greenbrier has golf courses, pools, places to shop, a boutique, and other attractions.
“They need to actually get away from me, be kids and do their own thing,” Kardon said. “For me, I brought my clubs and I’m going to work on my golf game.”
“I’m going to try and definitely hike and swim and do other stuff as safely as possible, and we’ll see what happens from there because I know the schedule is super busy,” Dolehide said.
WTT has protocols in place to ensure safety. Players will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival, then there will be a 24-hour waiting period for results. Any player or coach who tests positive will be removed from the league without pay. If it happens during the season, they’ll be removed and paid on a prorated basis. The players will also receive temperature checks throughout league play.
“I definitely have a ton of trust in what World TeamTennis is doing here,” Dolehide said. “Personally, I feel safe, and I know I’m doing everything I can to keep myself and others safe.”
The Freedoms will be one of the favorites to leave as champions. The last two seasons showed the team’s talent, and those battles give them added experience to carry into this year. At 9 p.m. Monday, the Freedoms will play in the season-opener against the Orange County Breakers on CBS Sports Network.