New York Empire Beat Chicago Smash to Win 2020 World TeamTennis Final

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2020

Coco Vandeweghe U.S. makes a backhand return to Germany's Laura Siegemund during their first round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

The New York Empire went .500 in the regular season and barely squeaked into the playoffs. Two upsets later, and they're the 2020 World TeamTennis champions.

The Empire earned their first championship Sunday, topping the Chicago Smash 21-20 in a match that came down to a tiebreaker. Coco Vandeweghe and Nicole Melichar topped Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sloane Stephens 7-6 on a thrilling winner that barely touched the back line.

World TeamTennis @WorldTeamTennis

#WTT2020: On the deciding point in the Supertiebreaker, @CoCoVandey smacks a forehand return winner down the middle to seal the #WTTChampionship and #KingTrophy for the @nyempiretennis, 21-20, over the @ChicagoSmashWTT! #NYvsCHI #EveryPointCounts https://t.co/2dkoz1UWfz

The Empire's victory was nothing short of a surprise, given they went 7-7 in the regular season and were without Kim Clijsters for the playoffs. They responded with a surprising 22-18 upset over the top-seeded Philadelphia Freedoms on Saturday and held it together against the Smash, who pulled off an upset of their own over Orlando in the semis.

The Empire got off to a red-hot start in doubles action, winning the first two sets. Jack Sock and Neal Skupski dominated Rajeev Ram and Brandon Nakashima in a 20-minute opening set, giving New York a 5-2 lead. Sock stayed on the court with Vandeweghe for a 5-4 win over Ram and Bethanie Mattek-Sands in mixed doubles, but the strategy backfired in the third set.

World TeamTennis @WorldTeamTennis

#WTT2020: Brandon Nakashima gets the bagel 🥯 to vault Chicago on top, 11-10! Watch the @ChicagoSmashWTT battle the @nyempiretennis LIVE NOW on @CBS in the #WTTChampionship! #NYvsCHI #EveryPointCounts https://t.co/15iKWMHdvk

After taking the mixed doubles set off, a fresh Nakashima returned to the court for a 5-0 rout over Sock, who was playing in his third straight set. Nakashima's win shifted the momentum in favor of the Smash. Stephens topped Vandeweghe in the fourth set to put Chicago ahead 16-13 going into what could have been a fifth and final set.

It wasn't to be.

Vandeweghe and Melichar squeaked past Mattek-Sands, Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard 5-4 in women's doubles, swept the two extra points and put things away in the tiebreak.