Thirty-one year old Justin Gimelstob, who retired from professional tennis in 2007 after twelve years on the pro tour, is now playing on Washington DC’s first pro tennis team, the Washington Kastles, the newest franchise of the World Team Tennis Pro League. Gimmelstob holds two Grand Slam Championship trophies in mixed doubles.
Q. Tell me about teh newest World Team Tennis franchise, the Washington Kastles.
A. I love the high energy of WTT and the fan interaction in points. Having music, noise and cheering is a lot of fun. Tennis should be for all audiences and not only tennis players. We want huge fan participation to make it exciting and fun, like a baseball game.
Q. What other differences are there from standard tennis matches?
A. The courts are multicolored, you play let balls, and there is no ad scoring. Each team has two men and two women. The men play a set, the women play a set, then you have a set of men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and the last set is mixed doubles. Five sets in all. Even our coach Thomas Blake can substitute in. How cool is that? Billie Jean King, the founder of WTT, dreamt of this league 33 years ago. She wanted to bring tennis to the parks of America, take it out of the country clubs and fancy elite cultures. A typical score might be 23-19 for the match. Of course we hope the Kastles are on the 23 side! Every game counts, so no slacking!
Q. Can you substitute a man in a women’s match or is it gender specific?
A. The coach can substitute in the lineup, but it has to be the same gender — though not a bad thought subbing gender-wise. More “Battle of the Sexes!!” Maybe we should take that up with Billie Jean.
Q. I was at that historic match of King against Bobby Riggs. I don’t think you were even born then. Has gender equity in the sporting arena been on your radar screen?
A. I grew up in the era of Title IX, and it’s still unbelievable to me that it took federal legislation to balance the playing field for men and women in sports. And because tennis is my sport, I’ve always been very aware of the role that Billie Jean King played in bringing about gender equity in sports, from youth leagues to professionals. World Team Tennis is a great example of how far equity in sports has come.
Q. Are there any similar leagues found in other countries?
A. I don’t think so. WTT is as unique a professional sports league as there is in the world.
Q. Will WTT teams look to scout collegiate or high school players for future drafts?
A. Of course. WTT is always looking for new talent. One of my teammates this season is Sacha Jones, a 17-year-0ld up-and-comer from New Zealand. She may not be a household name yet, but scouting helped find her and she’s going to play an integral role in helping the Kastles win.
Q. Does the WTT look to expand to other countries to become real “World” league?
A. You’d have to ask Billie Jean King that one. But if they decide to put a franchise in the Bahamas, I may have to demand a trade.
Q. Who do you look forward to playing against the most?
A. I always like a challenge, so the better the player I’m facing, the more I look forward to it. For the Kastles, I can’t wait to face John McEnroe on July 15th. That is going to be an exciting match for the fans to see.
Q. Are there any rivalries that we can look forward to in the WTT?
A. This is my first season in WTT, so I personally don’t have any rivalries with other franchises in the league. But I bet after we win a few matches, rivalries will start to develop. They make any league more exciting, don’t they?
Q. What attracted you to our Capital City? The Kastles’ owner Mark Ein selected you as the first historic draft pick for the team.
A. I love this area. Playing downtown on that incredible court at 11th and 8th streets, smack dab in the middle of the nation’s capital, is amazing. There’s public transportation of every kind right there and a fantastic urban feel. We expect the fans to be really jazzed up.
Q. What are the Kastles’ uniforms?
A. I am not sure yet, but our home team color is going to be white.
Q. How do you prepare for a tennis match?
A. I will hit balls in the morning: groundstrokes, volleys, overheads, serves, play some points and try to get moving around and feeling loose. I might eat some pasta and chicken an hour or two before the match. Just before game time I will try to be quiet and focused, really start concentrating.
Q. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
A. I am tall so my serve is an advantage and I like to volley and attack. I always work on my mobility, movement and quickness.
Q. Do your previous injuries affect your performance in matches?
A. To some extent, yes. My injuries have affected my back, and it’s hard to coddle a back injury when Pete Sampras is on the other side of the net serving at you. Lateral quickness and torque on my serve are hugely important to winning tennis, and back injuries affect both of those areas.
Q. How does competition factor into your everyday life?
A. Life is a competition. I have goals in tennis and I set goals in life. I work hard and try to be the best I can be.
Q. For our female fans out there; are you single?
A. No, I’m not married. I have a girlfriend, though, but due to my travel schedule, it’s difficult at times. We have been seeing each other for 10 months or so.
Q. Do you like athletic women?
A. Sure, it is a common interest. Couples that work out together stay together!
Q. Your new boss Mark Ein is a tennis player. Have you ever played with him?
A. I played with him yesterday. He is a really good player! He really gave me an opportunity to be successful here, and I like his philanthropic philosophy and big time thinking. The whole situation here really appeals to me. I can’t wait!
Q. How can local fans get involved in promoting the Kastles?
A. Fans can become a Kastles Ambassador, a program designed for Kastles fans to help promote the Kastles in their own community. If you’re interested, call 202-4TENNIS and tell teh Kastles you want to become an Ambassador.