World TeamTennis is one of the first leagues to return to play in a bubble-like atmosphere.
The Philadelphia Freedoms’ players, coaches, and staff have adjusted to the strict guidelines, which include not leaving The Greenbrier, the luxury resort in West Virginia where they play and live; regular testing and temperature checks; and social distancing.
After one week, the team is enjoying the experience on and off the court. The Freedoms are 2-1 in their first three matches, and the players are using the extra time together to bond.
“So far it’s been really good,” Sofia Kenin said. “We’re happy, we all help each other out, we’re practicing, we’re having good practices, and we’re doing the best we can to get everybody ready for our matches.”
The Freedoms can be broken up into two sides. Donald Young, Taylor Townsend, and Fabrice Martin are the returnees. Kenin, Taylor Fritz, and Caroline Dolehide are the newcomers.
Just as the three returnees are familiar with one another, so are the new players. Kenin and Dolehide grew up playing together in the amateur ranks, and both knew Fritz well before this season.
The team is staying about a “golf cart ride away” from the tennis courts at the resort in White Sulphur Springs. Living in one location is also giving players more rest. In a normal season, the team would be traveling on most off days and may get a couple of legit days off. On Thursday, the team got the entire day to recover.
“You really would have very few days [last season] to relax, and if you wanted to, do nothing,” Freedoms president Barbara Perry said. “That’s one of the big differences with this setup.”
A week at The Greenbrier has confirmed what many people knew. The Freedoms look like one of the premier contenders for the King Trophy. They won their first two matches, 25-16 and 24-12, and lost to last season’s runner-up, the New York Empire, 25-17, on Wednesday.
“We have a great team and we’re off to a really good start,” Perry said. “I think we’ll just get stronger as we go, as we settle in. We have a lot of work to do, but I think overall everyone is feeling very good.”
Coach Craig Kardon hasn’t changed the lineups much besides Fritz/Martin starting men’s doubles in the first match and Martin/Young in the last two.
One constant has been Kenin in women’s singles. Much attention was placed on Kenin’s arrival after she won the 2020 Australian Open and jumped to No. 4 in the WTA’s ranking. But WTT presents a new challenge.
She’s adjusting to the team aspect and playing without fans.
“I try to play my game and do what I do best,” Kenin said. “Of course it’s different. I prefer it with the fans and everything normal, but I feel like I can play on any court and I’m going to do the best I can to win.”
Kenin won her first two matches, 5-3 and 5-1. Her loss came Wednesday against former world No. 1 and four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters.