The Tennis Channel has finally arrived at my house.

I knew it would be frustrating and I’d like to tell you that I was prepared but it just isn’t so. The Adelphia representative who opened my account assured me that the Bronze Package contained The Tennis Channel. It doesn’t. That’s the Digital Plus package. He then neglected to tell me that my billing rate was a special that would go up seventy percent after the first four months. The installation man forgot the DVR on the first attempt. I cannot turn the DVR off because they still haven’t closed the work order thirty-six hours after installation. It’s a good thing I am living alone. It allows me to scream and curse at the top of my lungs in complete frustration – after I get off the phone, of course.

Welcome to World Team Tennis, Billie Jean King’s long running innovation in team play and equality. You play and travel with a team and men and women contribute equally to the score. One set each of men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles and mixed doubles. No ad scoring, first to five games wins the set – nine point tiebreaker at 4-4, and three shot spot challenges per match. Except for the shot spot challenges, don’t worry, they’ll soon arrive in tournament play, these rules look very much like the new ATP doubles rules. If the tennis world will not convert to World Team Tennis, at least it’s starting to look like World Team Tennis.

Tonight we’re watching the Boston Lobsters and the New York Sportimes play at the at the hockey arena on Harvard University’s campus. Fans wave inflatable lobsters and applaud when the opposing team makes an error. The Lobsters’ mascot shimmies next to the net on crossovers, every four games not every other game, while the Sportimes mascot, well, there isn’t one. And what would it be anyway – the front page of the New York Times sports section? That is the most boring team name I’ve ever heard

Tonight is a special event because it marks the first singles match ever played between Martina Hingis and Martina Navratilova. Martina junior is named after Martina senior. When has this ever happened before? A tennis player sticks around long enough for a twenty-four year old to play her namesake? Navratilova is exactly twice as old as Hingis.

We start with the men’s doubles. Thomas Blake and Jonathan (Chu Chu Train) Chu play for Boston against Mark Merklein and Robert Kendrick. Thomas is James Blake’s older brother. He has the same hair but doesn’t move as well.

All four players hit big serves and volley well enough to get to 4-4 in the set. This means that it’s time for the nine-point tiebreaker. The tiebreaker also gets to 4-4 so it’s a sudden death set point and the receiving team chooses which side to receive serve. For some reason, Boston chooses the rookie, Chu, to receive serve. He hits the return long and New York wins the first set 5-4.

Thomas Blake now plays the men’s singles against Robert Kendrick. The first to four points wins a game. If the game gets to 3-3, it’s another sudden death point and the receiving team gets to choose which side to receive serve. Down 3-4 in games with set point against him, Kendrick returns the favor by choosing to receive on the deuce side. This allows Blake to serve wide. Which he does, for an ace, giving Boston the set and a 9-8 lead.

Women’s doubles is next with Navratilova and Daja Bedanova playing for Boston and Hingis and Jenny Hopkins playing for New York. I hope Hopkins speaks some Czech, she’s surrounded by them. Hingis has always been an excellent doubles player and the other Martina still plays in grand slams doubles. It’s a joy to watch their quick hands and intelligent strategy. Bedanova makes more unforced errors than Hopkins. An amazing backhand overhead winner by Navratilova and great net play can’t compensate for Bedanova and they lose the set 5-3. New York now leads 13-12.

It’s time for the big match. A heel injury led to Hingis’ retirement. Well, that and the overpowering strokes of the Williams’ sisters. Will her heel hold up? Is she in match shape?

I guess so. Hingis breaks Navratilova right away. On game point in the second game, she runs Navratilova wide then drops a drop shot to the same side of the court as Navratilova scrambles to get back to the middle. Hingis’ serve is so-so and she never overpowered anyone but there was no smarter player on the tour. She runs Navratilova all over the court and passes her readily. The only mistake she makes is to receive serve on the ad side on sudden death in the fifth game. What is the problem here? Can’t anyone get this right? Navratilova is a lefty, that’s her strong serving side. Hingis gets out of it, though, with a passing shot and beats Navratilova with the surprising score of 5-0.

I would have preferred to watch Lleyton Hewitt throw down the lawnmower and Guillermo Coria retaliate with a mocking vicht in the Australia-Argentina Davis Cup quarterfinal earlier today. There is a match that had it all: tension, bad feelings, and a rabid home crowd.

New York is now up 18-12 and you would think that the match is over because the most games Boston can win in mixed doubles is five. Not so. If a team is leading going into mixed doubles and they win the mixed doubles, they win the match. If the team that is behind wins the mixed doubles then the match continues until the team that is ahead wins one more game – thus winning the match – or the losing team ties the score. If there is a tie, a supertiebreaker is played.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter tonight. Navratilova and Chu play Hingis and Merklein in the mixed doubles. Hingis and Merklein are experienced players. They go right at Chu and win the mixed doubles 5-1.

New York wins 23-13.

I like tennis as a team sport. I think tennis would benefit a great deal by introducing team tennis to high schools to compete with other team sports. It would also introduce the sport to more players at a younger age.

But I’m not sure about World Team Tennis. It imports tennis stars who play only a few matches, Roddick, Boris Becker, even Steffi Graf will play this season, so it’s hard to build a team identity and the enmity and adoration that comes with it. The season only runs for three weeks. It’s not possible to develop a following with such a short season.

I would have preferred to watch Lleyton Hewitt throw down the lawnmower and Guillermo Coria retaliate with a mocking vicht in the Australia-Argentina Davis Cup quarterfinal earlier today. There is a match that had it all: tension, bad feelings, and a rabid home crowd.

When World Team Tennis develops those three things, I’ll be in the front row.

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