Doubles Take is here with a look back at the Australian Open and a preview of this week’s action on the ATP and WTA tours.
A COMEBACK BETTER THAN THE FIRST ACT
Back in 2013, with a couple of dozen doubles finals to his credit, Filip Polasek was forced to retire at 28 due to a major back injury. Returning to the game five years later after the extended rest contributed to his recovery, the Slovak has steadily climbed back up the rankings behind some stellar results, such as winning a Masters title and reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon with partner Ivan Dodig.
Now, after the Australian Open, Polasek has earned a new title for himself: Grand Slam champion.
Polasek won his first major tournament, while Dodig captured his fifth between men’s and mixed doubles. Though they got the year off to a strong start with a runner-up finish in Antayla, Turkey, the ninth seeds weren’t considered among the favorites in Melbourne, with Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic—who beat them in Antayla—coming in with two titles already in 2021; Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram, the defending champions, aiming for a repeat; and the reunited team of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, the 2016 winners, playing well. Dodig and Polasek only dropped one set in their first four matches, then ended Mektic and Pavic’s winning streak in the semis. In the final, they beat Ram and Salisbury in straight sets, with the win making Polasek the first man from Slovakia to win a Grand Slam in men’s doubles.
HARD TO HANDLE
Given their knack for winning titles, fairly young ages and high rankings, Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka are both usually on the short lists of contenders for Grand Slam singles titles.
In doubles, the Belgian-Belarussian duo is considered an outright favorite, especially on hard courts.
Seeded second in Melbourne, Mertens and Sabalenka were pushed to the brink in two of their first three matches, then caught fire. In the quarterfinals, they only dropped two games to Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, the hottest team on tour to that point. Next, they won their semifinal match against the number-four seeds Demi Schuurs and Nicole Melichar in straights to set up a final against two-time major champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, the third seeds. In what was expected to be a battle, Mertens and Sabalenka had no problems with the Czechs, defeating them, 6-2, 6-3, to win their second Grand Slam title together after the 2019 US Open.
With the win, Sabalenka took over the top spot in the women’s doubles rankings, with Mertens right behind her. For all of their success, though, the duo has decided to slow down on their partnership as they each try to focus on singles in the months ahead.
RAM AND KREJCIKOVA: MELBOURNE MVPS
It had been a while since the tennis world saw mixed doubles at a Grand Slam tournament—over a year, in fact. The last champs were Barbora Krejcikova and Nikola Mektic, who won the Australian Open in 2020. That win was Krejcikova’s second title in a row in the discipline, as she and Rajeev Ram took the top prize in ’19.
The Czech-American duo reunited for this year’s tournament and picked up right where they left off. The sixth seeds, who fought off a match point against them in the second round, defeated the home favorites Samantha Stosur and Matt Ebden in straight sets in the final.
Both Ram and Krejcikova had to endure the two-week hard quarantine after arriving in Melbourne, but evidently, they had the key on how to best handle the situation and prepare for play. Aside from the mixed crown, Ram and Krejcikova reached the finals in men’s and women’s doubles, respectively, adding up for a lot of hardware to carry to their next destinations.
The WTA isn’t ready to say goodbye to Australia just yet: First, there’s the Adelaide International to be played. The draw is a fairly deep one, evidenced by the fact that the top seeds, Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, are already out. Two-time titlists in 2021, the Japanese duo dropped a match tiebreak to Yifan Xu—who won the tournament last year with Nicole Melichar—and Zhaoxuan Yang. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Asia Muhammad, the fourth seeds, also lost their opening-round match.
For the men, there’s three different tournaments, with two of them being played indoors. In Singapore, the top seeds are Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, followed by Rohan Bopanna and Ben McLachlan. At the other event under the roof, in Montpellier, France, Henri Kontinen and Edouard Roger-Vasselin are atop the draw and will be looking to bounce back from their first-round loss at the Australian Open. The second seeds are Marcelo Arevalo and Matwe Middelkoop, who have had a strong start to 2021 and are coming off a quarterfinal appearance in Melbourne.
The “Golden Swing”—the stretch of clay-court tournaments in Latin America held during the early part of the season—kicks off with the Cordoba Open in Argentina. The top seeds are Austin Krajicek and Franko Skugor, followed by Marcelo Demoliner and Santiago Gonzalez. Demoliner is one of the defending champions, winning the tournament last year with Middelkoop.