One week, Neal Skupski was at Wimbledon, playing doubles with his brother, Ken.
The following week, he was in Sacramento, making his World TeamTennis debut, after joining the California Dream just three days before the season opener.
Skupski, 25, a native of Liverpool, England, was a late replacement for doubles specialist Aisam Qureshi, who had quit abruptly. Skupski’s success as a rookie is a big reason the Dream are in second place in the Western Conference and will play the Austin Aces in Thursday’s conference championship. The winner will advance to Sunday’s WTT championship.
Skupski was eager to join the Dream after discovering that Bob and Mike Bryan, the world’s top-ranked men’s doubles team, were on the roster. Skupski, who lost in the first round in men’s doubles at Wimbledon, figured he could learn from the Bryan twins.
“I think the Bryans had the biggest impact on me, because I play with my brother also on the tour, so I can relate to them very well,” Skupski said. “They’re No. 1 in the world and they’re still trying to better what they’re doing now, so it (was) good to be around them.”
As the Dream’s marquee players, the Bryans played just three matches, and they won’t be with the team for the playoffs.
Skupski and Anabel Medina Garrigues, one of the top doubles players in Spain, are the top mixed-doubles team in World TeamTennis. Entering Wednesday’s regular-season finale, Skupski had won 44 of his 73 mixed-doubles games and 35 of 79 men’s doubles games teaming with Tennys Sandgren.
Though Skupski and Garrigues have played well together, Skupski said their chemistry on the court took time to develop.
“Anabel is a very feisty girl, she doesn’t like losing and she was telling me off the very first match; I think we didn’t start off too well,” Skupski said. “She definitely got on my back straight away, (but) we’re on a roll at the moment.”
Entering Wednesday’s match, Skupski and Garrigues won seven of the nine matches they’ve played together, losing only to the Aces’ mixed-doubles team of Teymuraz Gabashvili and Alla Kudryavtseva. Skupski and Garrigues also had won five straight matches, by a combined score of 25-9.
Though Skupski and Sandgren haven’t matched the Bryans’ success – the twins won 12 of their 19 games in their three matches – the rookies have forged a bond where there once was animosity.
They were Southeastern Conference rivals in 2010, when Skupski played for LSU and Sandgren for Tennessee.
“I think we’ll have a long-term relationship now, which is nice to have,” Skupski said. “When I was in LSU and he was a Volunteer in Tennessee, we had a big rivalry and we didn’t like each other, but Tennys is definitely a friend for life.”
Though the Dream has lost all three times it has played the Aces, Skupski is confident he and his teammates can prevail.
“If we put all the pieces together, we’ll come out on top,” he said. “I think Austin might underestimate us because they’ve beaten us three times in a row, so you just never know. We definitely know we can beat them.”
If Skupski returns for another WTT season, he has a destination in mind.
“I’d love to play for (the Dream) again if the opportunity came about. Hopefully they pick me up in the draft, but you just never know,” he said. “Hopefully I’ve put on a good show this year and they’d want me next year, but if they don’t want me and then someone else comes for me, I’d have to think about it. I’d love to play (in) Sacramento again, that would be my first choice.”
World TeamTennis Playoffs
Western Conference championship: California Dream at Austin Aces, Thursday, 5 p.m.
Eastern Conference championship: TBA at Washington Kastles, Thursday, 4 p.m.
WTT championship: Sunday, 8:30 a.m.