CHARLESTON, S.C. – Venus Williams lifted the undefeated Washington Kastles to the World Team Tennis final Saturday, beating Ashley Harkleroad in the evening's last match to secure the Kastles' 19-15 victory over the New York Sportimes.
The teams were tied at 14 going into that match and William's 5-1 victory over Harkleroad kept the Eastern Conference champion Kastles' winning streak intact.
The Kastles, 15-0 on the season and winners of 31 straight WTT matches, face the Sacramento Capitals on Sunday in the championship. The Capitals beat the Orange County Breakers 25-15 on Friday.
"I have never played in a final after playing World Team Tennis for the past 12 years. This was huge for me," said Williams, the U.S. Open winner last Sunday.
Williams' serve was broken in the first game of the final match, giving the Sportimes their first lead of the night at 15-14. But Williams won the next five games, the last breaking Harkleroad at love, to put the Kastles into the championship.
Williams, also the Wimbledon champion this year, said she liked being on the court with the match on the line.
"I like the lineup like that. I like the pressure. There was a lot of pressure. She really played well and brought every ball back," she said. "To get those games as a cushion at the end helped me relax."
Leander Paes and Bobby Reynolds put the Kastles up 5-2 in the first match, beating the Sportimes' John McEnroe and Robert Kendrick in men's doubles. But the Sportimes won the mixed doubles by the same tally, with a team of Kendrick, who substituted midway for McEnroe, and Kveta Peschke edging Williams and Paes.
The Kastles' Bobby Reynolds defeated Jesse Witten in men's singles, again 5-2, to put Washington back on top.
But Williams, who teamed with sister Serena to capture the Olympic doubles gold medal for Team USA in London, lost in the women's doubles. Williams and Anastasia Rodinova lost, once again by a 5-2 score, to Harkleroad and Peschke.
Harkleroad said winning the women's doubles and tying the match for her team was a lift.
"I was sure proud of myself for winning the doubles. I played fantastic and my partner did," she said.
But it wasn't enough when it came to facing Williams in the deciding match.
"She was being very, very consistent and I thought to myself I really need to start going for more. I started making more errors but, you know, what could I do?" she said. "I never really believed I would pull it out and that's probably the main problem."
Williams said that, now she's in her first WTT final, she can enjoy it more.
"There was so much pressure today trying to get to the finals," she said. "I think tomorrow I'll be relaxed."