World Team Tennis (WTT) has been around since 1974 with one three-year break. This year the WTT season runs from July 6 to July 27. The league has seven teams, reaching from Boston to the West Coast. The idea is to meld Big Deal tennis pros, Big Deal recently retired tennis pros, Big Deal up-and-coming tennis pros, and play team against team. Each franchise plays 14 matches during the regular season with playoffs to follow. Matches are made up of five sets: one set of men’s singles, women’s singles, women’s doubles, men’s doubles, and mixed doubles. Now throw in cheerleaders, music, balloons, bombast, hoopla, tailgating, player autograph sessions, and noise — lots of noise.
Russell Geyser, 53, Rancho Santa Fe homeboy, somewhat retired real-estate titan, current film and TV producer, is owner of the just-born San Diego Aviators. We talked by phone last Friday. I wanted to know how he got rich and why he bought the team.
“I went to Berkeley undergrad and got my MBA at USC,” Geyser says. “I went into real-estate development at a pretty young age, 25. I’ve been winding out of real estate the last couple years.
“I was not good enough to make the tennis team in college. I practiced with the team when it was number two in the country, but I was not on the team. I’ve played a lot of competitive pro-ams since then. When the opportunity came along to actually own a tennis team and be part of bringing professional tennis back to San Diego...
“It’s hard to believe, we have over fifty tennis clubs here with significant membership and not a single professional tennis event in L.A., Orange County, or San Diego. The L.A. event is gone, the Orange County Breakers moved to Austin. If you want tennis you have to drive two hours to the fifth-most-attended tournament in the world at Indian Wells. We don’t have anything on the coast.
“One third of the people who attend Indian Wells come from San Diego. You’ve got to figure there’s a demand for this sport. I thought, I can’t afford the Chargers, clearly can’t afford the Clippers, and I can’t afford the Padres. So, being involved in bringing a sports team to San Diego was a phenomenal opportunity...”
I say, “I don’t get a three-week season for team and league sports. Hard to muster fan devotion in three weeks.”
Geyser says, “Here’s why. The ATP [Association of Tennis Professionals] and the WTA [World Tennis Association], the governing bodies for men’s and women’s tennis, have lengthy tennis seasons. There’s a break in between the grass and hard-court seasons that comprise this three-week opportunity. You can’t get these guys the rest of the year. If you start off in January, they’re in Australia. In March, they’re here for a couple weeks and then they’re in Miami. Then they’re on the clay-court tour in Western Europe. Then they’re in London all of June and part of July. Then they’re here for July. In August, the hard-court season starts as a run-up to the U.S. Open. You have the U.S. Open in August and September, and then they do the whole Asian thing. China continues to buy more tournaments. It’s kind of crazy how many tournaments they want. As a result, you only have this short three-week window.
“Tennis, typically, is a fortnight event. If you look at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open or the Australian or Indian Wells or Miami, some of the biggest tournaments in the world are 14 days. To actually have a three-week event that’s comprised of 14 matches, plus the semis and the finals, that’s a lot of matches in a very short period of time.
“It’s tremendous work for the players because there’s a lot of travel. You’ve got to travel to seven other cities, play seven away matches and seven home matches in 17 nights. Some of those cities are Philly and Boston and Dallas; they’re not next door.
“The players look at this as, ‘Here’s a chance to play three weeks for a team,’ the one thing they don’t get a lot of. That’s why Davis Cup is so popular with players; it’s like the World Cup of Tennis. It’s your chance to play on a team and be more than just yourself. Pros have described the tour as being very lonely. You have friends, but you’ve got to beat everybody to win a tournament, so everybody has to keep a little distance. This is an opportunity to have a team experience.”
The Aviators open their season on July 7 at Valley View Casino. Hie thee to sandiegoaviators.com for particulars.