This is not your father's country club. The St. Louis Aces, our team in the World Team Tennis league, does not have a whites-only dress (or membership) code. They do not insist on silence from the crowd during play -- in fact, says team owner/manager Jack Levitt, "You don't have to wait [until after a point] to get to your seat."
Taking a cue from team arena sports, the Aces "are entertainment," Levitt says. "We play rock music; we play sound effects -- if a guy hits a ball out of bounds, we flush a [simulated] toilet. [KLOU-FM's] Smash is our master of ceremonies. We break all the old tennis traditions."
As we've stressed in this section many times, the Cards, Rams and Blues are not the only games in town. To see professional tennis with some wild rule changes that make it more fan-friendly, head to Forest Park for three weeks in July.
You'll find concessions, a center court with more than 2,500 seatbacks -- no bleachers -- and an evening of competition unique to WTT. The five featured matches are men's and women's singles and doubles, plus mixed doubles. The matches follow one another at center court, eliminating the need to wander around to look at simultaneous action on other courts -- there isn't any. Here are the big differences that speed things up: There are no advantage points, so each game takes a maximum of seven points to decide. The sets are won in five games, not six, with tiebreakers played at 4-4. The match is decided by the total number of games won after five sets are played, not by the number of sets won. A "supertiebreaker" may decide the outcome of the whole shebang.
"It's very fast-paced tennis, and by playing no-ad scoring, you're allowing the underdog a better chance to win," says Levitt. The sets pass so quickly, in fact, that the competition begins at 7:05 p.m. and all five matches are over by 9:30 p.m.
In the recent draft of pros, St. Louis scored marquee players Andy "A-Rod" Roddick and Amanda Coetzer. Roddick is a twenty-year-old up-and-comer, ranked fourteenth in the world, who also played for the Aces last season. He's known for his 142 mph serve and has bested Pete Sampras in tournament play. The veteran Coetzer, ranked 37th, is a South African native who has reached a number-three ranking and has beaten Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport while each held the number-one ranking. The other Aces are Belarussian Olga Barabanschikova, Aussie Andrew Florent, American Holly Parkinson and Croatian Dusan Vemic. Each night that Roddick or Coetzer plays for the Aces, he or she will play three matches: singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
Top competitors slated to travel to the Lou to take on the Aces this season include Max "the Beast from Belarus" Mirnyi (ranked number 29), David Wheaton, Davis Cup team member James Blake and fifteen-year-old Siberian phenom Maria Sharapova. Other 2002 WTT players include Andre Agassi and John McEnroe.