The women’s doubles semi-final on Friday featuring Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan vs. Nicole Melichar of the U.S. and Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic was a roller coaster affair with both teams getting into winning positions.
After they won the first set with a single break of the Xu serve in the third game, Melichar and Peschke led 3-2 and had love-40 in the second set on the Dabrowski serve. It was a precarious position for Dabrowski and Xu but they held firm, rallying to 3-all.
Eventually, Melichar, who had been serving powerfully and effectively, got a little tight and lost her serve at 4-all and then Dabrowski served out the second set.
After she and Xu took a bathroom break at the end of the set, Melichar and Peschke broke Xu to grab a 2-0 final set lead. But Dabrowski and Xu immediately turned things around and ran off four games in a row. They appeared poised for victory when Peschke served at 2-4, 15-40 – double break point. But the Czech – a Daniel Nestor-ish 43 years old – steadied. She held serve and then she and Melichar broke Xu to get back even at 4-all.
The Czech/U.S. combo reasserted themselves when Melichar held to love to make the score 5-4.
In the following game, Dabrowski and Xu, living on a knife edge, saved triple match point from love-40 on the Xu serve to get to 5-all.
But after Peschke held to 6-5, Dabrowski and Xu failed to convert two game points with Dabrowski serving for 6-all. Given a reprieve, Melichar and Peschke finally capitalized – converting their fourth match point when Dabrowski was unable to control a forehand volley and hit long.
The match lasted two hours and 16 minutes on a Court No. 1 filled to near its capacity of 11,393. The final score read 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 for the 12-seeded Melichar and Peschke over sixth-seeds Dabrowski and Xu.
In hindsight, Dabrowski said about failing to break Peschke when she served at 2-4, love-30 in the final set, “that would have been key. I think we probably would have felt a lot more comfortable if we’d gotten up 5-2.”
Recalling the flow of the match, she added, “the first and second sets were quite close – we were all playing all right – trying to do the right things. Nicole was serving well, I was serving well, Kveta I thought had some really good passing shots in the third set. I think grass is her favourite surface because the ball can really get up above her shoulders too much because she’s really small. Like when we played against them at Indian Wells (a 6-4, 7-5 win for Dabrowski and Xu on hard courts), kick serves and ground strokes were bothering her more. Whereas here (at Wimbledon) they weren’t and she was more comfortable.”
Peschke is 5-foot-5 and Melichar is 5-foot-11. “I think the combination of tall and small player is good,” said the Czech who has been in five Grand Slam mixed and regular doubles finals – winning the Wimbledon title in 2011with Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia. “Most of the time my partners were taller players than I am and good servers. The combination of good server and somebody very decent at the net is a good – and I think I can also play quite solid from the baseline.”
Peschke attained a career-high WTA doubles ranking of No. 1 in July, 2011.
Speaking post-match to Canadian reporters, Dabrowski was remarkably candid about how she saw things from her losing side of the match. “In the end we got nervous, I got nervous for sure,” she said. “I don’t know how Julie (her name for Yifan) felt. I’m sure she felt a bit nervous too.
“I felt in some moments we were still trying the right things – the execution wasn’t quite there in the third set. I was disappointed in the end how I served. I thought I could have served more aggressively but of course when you’re nervous you don’t feel the ball as well, you don’t feel as comfortable to go after your shots and believe in your abilities.”
That inner believe has been a big part of the 26-year-old’s evolution as she has moved up the WTA doubles rankings to her current No. 9 spot.
“That’s something I’ve been working on my whole life,” she said about her competitive temperament. “I’m not a natural born kind of gritty-fighter, aggressive personality. It takes a lot for me to kind of smell blood, if you will, in a match. Sometimes I don’t notice when I should be doing that. Sometimes I don’t notice, when there’s an opportunity, what to do. It’s something I’m continuously working on – talking to different coaches, sports psychologists about it. And different things – routines, visualization, breathing, stuff like that. Tennis is tough. If everybody could perform well under pressure everybody would be good. So…unfortunately today we just came up short.”
Dabrowski and Xu played more consistently as a pair as the match went progressed. It was not the same with Melichar and Peschke. Clearly the older Peschke was the rock.
“Kevta impressed me very much,” Dabrowski said. “She’s a great player with a ton of experience. She’s been playing Wimbledon for many, many years with amazing results. So I definitely think Kveta was the much stronger player. Even before when I’ve seen her play she’s given more free points on her serve – more double faults. She had a shoulder problem in the past but today she was very solid from all sides.”
Dabrowski didn’t attribute a subpar performance from her and Xu to playing in Court No. 1 with an excellent and involved crowd watching. “I don’t think that played a part because I felt nervous in our first round match and that was on Court 5,” she said. “It was wonderful to play on that court. I’d take it any time I have the opportunity. It was great to have that crowd.”
Next for Dabrowski, who may return to Ottawa or go to her training base in Florida, and will be WTA events in San Jose, Montreal (Rogers Cup) and Cincinnati.
As for Peschke (celebrating above), she and Melichar, who was born in the Czech Republic and speaks Czech but grew up in Florida, will play two other Czechs in Saturday’s final – the No. 3-seeded team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. It will be a big day for Brno, Czech Republic, both Krejcikova and Melichar were born there.
Leylah Annie Fernandez of Montreal was the only Canadian in the junior events at Wimbledon this year. She won a round in singles and a round in doubles before being eliminated. The 15-year-old bowed out in singles on Tuesday and lost in doubles on Thursday playing with Gabriella Price of the U.S. They were beaten 6-4, 6-4 by the eighth-seeded French pairing of Clara Burel and Diane Parry.
Fernandez, whose family roots are in the Philippines (mother) and Ecuador (father), has now had her first visits to Roland Garros, where she reached the singles semi-finals, and Wimbledon – experiences that will be invaluable to her going forward. She is ranked No. 13 in the International Tennis Federation world junior girls rankings.
After an impressive run at Wimbledon – three qualifying wins, a first round victory over British wild card Gabrielle Taylor and a loss to No. 17 seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia – Genie Bouchard headed off to Contrexeville, France, for a $100,000 Challenger event this week. The objective was to get some WTA ranking points at a lower-level tournament.
Things didn’t go to plan when she was beaten 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the opening round on Wednesday by No. 177-ranked Paula Badosa Gibert. The 20-year-old from Spain was the 2015 French Open junior champion and reached a career high WTA ranking of No. 163 last month.
With a win in the tournament, Bouchard could have moved from her current ‘live’ WTA ranking of No. 147 up to about No. 96. A runner-up finish and she would have been about No. 112. As it is, she will be about No. 148 next Monday, which is six weeks ahead of the US Open and the entry deadline for Flushing Meadows. That means she will have to play the qualifying in New York at the end of next month.
Next week Bouchard has a wild card into the $250,000 WTA International Series tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland, on clay.
Wimbledon post card
These two blokes are seated outside a Wimbledon Village restaurant making themselves right at home – bare feet and all – on a recent sunny afternoon in High Street Wimbledon.
Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz
NEXT Blog: Tebbutt Tuesday on July 17th.