By Laura Amato
Ilana Kloss stood on the court at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills in November and swore she could almost hear the sounds of the crowd.
Kloss, the longtime CEO and commissioner of Mylan World TeamTennis, won the 1976 US Open doubles titles at the Club and the historic location has always held a special place in her heart. Now, Kloss is hoping to help write the next chapter of Forest Hills’ rich tennis history.
World TeamTennis is set to return to the West Side Tennis Club this summer, as the New York Empire begin its inaugural season Sunday. Kloss can’t wait to hear the cheers once again.
“From a league perspective we’ve always thought it was important to have a team in New York City or at least the New York area,” Kloss said. “When you looked at the investment that had been made to upgrade the stadium, when you looked at the passion for the club to have competitive, professional tennis back there and the needs for the team and the league to really have a venue that was accessible and had a wonderful history, I think all the pieces came together.”
World TeamTennis, currently in its 41st season, is the brainchild of Billie Jean King and consistently brings together some of the biggest names in the sport.
This year, the Empire will be led by coach—and New York native—Patrick McEnroe. The team’s roster also includes former World No. 1 Andy Roddick, 2015 Male Rookie of the Year Neal Skupski and rising star Christina McHale.
But this isn’t simply a chance for tennis’ biggest names to showcase their skills. This is a team sport and these players are here to win.
“These are premier, top tennis athletes and it’s a very competitive environment,” Empire general manager Colleen Hopkins said. “Not only do they want to win for themselves, but they don’t want to let their team down.”
It wasn’t hard for the league to build the Empire this summer. McEnroe was quick to jump at the opportunity to coach the squad while players like Roddick are anxious to make their Forest Hills debut.
After all, the West Side Tennis Club is one of the most historic locations in all of tennis. The site, which first opened in 1892, hosted the US Open 60 times, first from 1915 to 1920, and again from 1924 to 1977.
“I think the one thing that tennis has is this incredibly rich history,” Kloss said. “I feel like you have a melding of the old and new here.”
World TeamTennis also offers fans a different approach to the sport. The matches include a shotclock on players’ serves and coaches are allowed to substitute one player, per event, per gender at the conclusion of a point.
The rules create an energized environment and one that the Empire hopes will help bring in the community.
“It’s year one and the goal is to be a long-term team, to be a good community partner and to really make this tennis and this team really accessible,” Hopkins said.
The team is holding a handful of specific events throughout the sesaon—which runs until Aug. 13—to build the fan base, including ticket discounts for Queens residents, autograph sessions for kids under 16 and an instructional clinic with players from a handful of countries.
As far as the league is concerned, this is only the beginning for the Empire. It’s time to start a new chapter in tennis history and, maybe, even spark the next generation of sports stars.
“World Team Tennis is really about playing very competitive tennis, playing for your city and your team. But it’s also a great way to connect the generations,” Kloss said. “I’m a believer in you have to see it to be it and maybe some kids will come out and start dreaming about playing for their hometown team.”