By Dan Harrison
---- — MANCHESTER — The Boston Lobsters had the best attendance numbers the team has seen this summer, as 1,740 fans packed the Joan Norton Tennis Center last night.
The turnout didn’t come as a big surprise. After all, everybody wants to see the King.
Billie Jean King was on hand to watch the Lobsters fall, 23-18, to the Washington Kastles. The living legend held a clinic for local tennis youths before the match, participated in a Q&A with announcer Steve Calechman during a break in play and signed autographs for fans, who welcomed King with a standing ovation before the match.
In an interview before play began, King discussed the future of Mylan WTT, what makes it so special and what she likes about the facility the Lobsters have set up at the Manchester Athletic Club.
“I must say of all the things I did in my life, this will be one of my greatest contributions,” said the 39-time Grand Slam Champion, who played at nearby Essex County Tennis Club when she was just 17. “When we drove in I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve been here before.’”
During her brief Q&A with Calechman, King revealed interesting personal nuggets. Fans learned her favorite holiday is Thanksgiving; her favorite movie is ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’; she drinks coffee, but only decaf; and that she’s watched Wimbledon with England’s Royal Couple, Kate and William.
As far as Mylan World TeamTennis is concerned, King has found the next generation of tennis greats to help bring the league into the future.
“We want to start getting younger players involved with the league because I’m going to be 70 this year. We asked (Andy) Roddick, and we asked Venus (Williams), and they both said yes right away,” said King. “They’re into it – their skin is in the game, so they aren’t just celebrity owners. I want them to shape the future because they’re the young ones. They’re the ones who know what’s going on with the younger folks and can shape this league’s future.”
A longtime advocate for gender equality, King points to the example Mylan WTT sets for younger kids when it comes to working alongside the opposite gender. The league is one of very few in pro sports in which men and women play together and against one another.
“There’s contributions from both genders equally. When you get a little 8-year-old girl out here, they’re going through a socialization process that they don’t realize,” explained King. “They’re watching men and women working together and cooperating, which is how things are in real life. It’s very rare to have men and women on the same team in pro sports, so it’s great that we have it.”
Lastly, King hit on the facility at the MAC and why she thinks it’s an ideal place for tennis enthusiasts as well as future standout players.
“This facility is just amazing. They have a new court and everything. It’s also a beautiful area and a lot of people in this area show up and love tennis,” said King. “This is also a great place for the kids, especially in the winter which they’ll need if they want to make it. They don’t have to go down to Florida.”
The match itself started with an ace for Lobsters, marquee player Mark Philippoussis, but the Australian lost 5-4 (5-3 in the tiebreak) to Washington’s Bobby Reynolds.
After the match, Philippoussis spoke about the guest of honor.
“This (Mylan WTT) is what she started, so I think it’s great that she comes out and shows her support,” noted Philippoussis. “She’s been a huge influence in tennis and has done incredible things for both male and female players. She’s as good as anyone in sports — or not in sports — to look up to.”
After Washington’s Martina Hingis dispatched Jill Craybas, 5-3, in women’s singles, Philippoussis and Eric Butorac defeated Reynolds and Leander Paes, 5-3, in what was Boston’s best set of the night. The Lobsters (now 3-5) clinched the set winning a three-all point, but overall struggled in those do-or-die moments.
“With the Kastles (4-2), we have a smaller margin for error. We started with a lot of energy but we didn’t carry it through until the end,” said Boston head coach Bud Schultz. “Three-all points are huge swings in a match and we have to get better. I have to prepare them better.”
Craybas and Katalin Marosi were defeated, 5-2, by Hingis and Anastasia Rodionova before Butorac and Marosi fell to Paes and Hingis, 5-4 in the final set of the night.
Boston will be in New York tonight to play the Sportimes (2-3).