Texas Wild’s first season in Irving finds builds fan base

Posted Saturday, Aug. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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There was a lot of anticipation among tennis fans for the arrival of World TeamTennis in North Texas when the Texas Wild began its inaugural season in Irving on July 10.

However, a half-filled stadium and a subdued crowd greeted the team at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas.

But those fans were also treated to something special. The Wild stepped up and defeated the two-time WTT champion Washington Kastles and snapped their record 34-match winning streak.

And things began to change.

Wild owner Jeff Launius couldn’t have asked for a better debut, and by the midway point of the season, the Wild’s 2,000-seat stadium was close to capacity. Fans had discovered they could let loose and have a good time. And they could also enjoy a quality product, as it turned out.

“I think there was a lot of anticipation, but I don’t think the fans knew what to anticipate,” Launius said. “I think the Washington match kind of set the tone.

“After opening night, the fans got it. They realized they could make noise. They realized that this was their team, and their enthusiasm got better and better and better. That was a great sign for us as an organization and as a team.”

Launius said that the hometown support played a big role in helping inspire the team to make a second-half run that landed them in the Western Conference playoffs after finishing the regular season tied with Springfield atop the conference standings at 9-5.

The Wild also benefited by having quality players that fans could get behind. The No. 1-ranked doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan was a guaranteed draw, but it turned out to be the enthusiasm and quality of play of 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, a real rising star on the WTA Tour, and Russian journeyman Alex Bogomolov Jr. who kept fans coming back.

“Our team chemistry was phenomenal,” Launius said. “Alex Bogomolov was the glue that held us together.”

Fans also saw world-class players who are not household names, such as the ATP’s No. 9-ranked doubles player, Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, as well as Darija Jurak and Tara Snyder. Even Jim Courier stepped in for the Wild in a match in New York.

Even though the Wild lost to Springfield in the Western Conference championship, the loss didn’t put a damper on the season.

“Coming in, the players all knew of each other, but they really didn’t know each other,” Launius said. “Now I think that bond is strong, and it’s a very possible that we could get them all back next year.

“In Springfield they were all talking about coming back next year, even before I talked to them. At dinner that night after the match, Bogie said, ‘Hey, guys, we were so close, let’s come back next year and do this.’ There’s a business side to this, but it is possible.”

Despite the loss, the season was a success, and the foundation of a fan base was established. Launius said he couldn’t have been happier with the first season in Texas.

“The fans I’ve talked to are already talking about next year, and that’s the ultimate compliment in sports.

“Coming into a first year, you think you might have everything solved and you know everything, but you really don’t,” he said. “But you adjust. Now that we have a season under our belt here, we’ll adjust in some positive ways to make it better. But for a first year, I don’t think we could have asked for anything better.”

Rusty Hall, 817-390-7816 Twitter: @RustyHall10s

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