Melichar, Schuurs: Pushing Each Other To Be Better

Demi Schuurs and Nicole Melichar (photo: Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith)

CHARLESTON, S.C./WASHINGTON, April 13, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

When Nicole Melichar and Demi Schuurs won their second doubles title of the season, at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, S.C., Sunday afternoon, they did a little dance to celebrate. The American-Dutch duo were 6-2, 6-4 winners against Marie Bouzkova and Lucie Hradecka, both from the Czech Republic. It was their third title performance in less than a year since becoming a doubles team last season.

Through pandemic times that all players have faced for over the past year – dealing with the WTA lockdown and multiple quarantine bubbles since the tour resumed – Melichar and Schuurs have found solace on the tennis court. This year, they’ve thrived by winning at Doha and Charleston while also reaching the semifinals at the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne and the Australian Open. They’ve compiled a 14-5 win-loss record, which puts them in third place in the WTA Porsche Doubles Race to Shenzhen. Last year, they won a title on clay at Strasbourg, France.

“Every time we win a title, it’s really exciting for us,” Melichar said Sunday during a virtual interview that followed their Volvo Car Open title victory. “To transition from the hard to clay and win right away in your first week, I think that’s incredible. We both kept each other up this whole week.

“Sometimes, I was playing well, sometimes Demi was playing well, but we had to bring each other up. Our communication, our support, was key. We’re thrilled every time we can win.”

The road that led Melichar and Schuurs to their third title began with a come-from-behind 3-6, 6-1, 10-4 victory against Ellen Perez of Australia and Coco Vandeweghe of the United States. From there, they put together back-to-back straight-set victories over Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and Anastasia Potapova of Russia, 6-3, 6-2, in the quarterfinals, then beat Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Asia Muhammad of the United States, 7-5, 6-1, in the semifinals. Against Bouzkova and Hradecka, they were going up against one of the best doubles players of this generation in Hradecka, whose 22 career WTA doubles titles includes two Grand Slam titles (at Roland Garros in 2011 and the US Open in 2013, both with Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic). A common denominator throughout their title run was Melichar and Schuurs controlled the net against their opponents.

Tennis TourTalk asked Melichar and Schuurs what makes them such a formidable team, especially with having won three titles in a relatively short period of time. Schuurs said: “First of all, we’ve known each other a long time, working with the same coach (Torsten Peschke). We were practicing a lot together and hanging out together off court. I think that’s an advantage that we know each other really well.

“If you just see our game, I think it fits each other. Nicole’s is very strong from the back, has a good serve. I like to be at the net. I like to be ‘touchy’. … The opponents are always under pressure when they play us. It’s tough to beat a team that’s always playing with a lot of pressure. We’re good friends off the court as well as on, we practice together when we’re on the road. That’s a big advantage. We enjoy practicing to improve and be better.”

Schuurs, a native of Sittard, Netherlands, gave up playing singles early in her pro career to concentrate solely on doubles and has no regrets. “For me, the level difference is big,” she said. “My best singles ranking was 512 (in 2015). In doubles, I was in the top 100 and knew I could get better.”

Currently, Schuurs is ranked No. 11 in the world after reaching a career high of No. 7 in 2018. She’s approaching 300 career victories and has earned 14 career doubles titles.

“The biggest chance to get better was for me to focus on doubles,” she said. “That’s what I did. It’s one of my best decisions ever. I’m happy to play doubles. I like the team spirit.”

Meanwhile, Melichar, who was born in the Czech Republic and moved to Florida in the United States as a child, shares a similar career arc to Schuur’s. After reaching a career-high in singles of No. 400 in 2012, Melichar began to focus on doubles, and after winning Charleston on Sunday, she’s reached a career-high of No. 10 in doubles.

“For me, it was an ultimate decision to play doubles. It hurt me that I wasn’t able to continue in singles and get as high as I wanted to go,” said Melichar, who has 285 career doubles victories and has won 10 doubles titles. “The difference in decisions was ‘do I want to struggle or be OK in singles, or do I want to compete for the biggest titles in the world in doubles?’

“For me, it was a no-brainer. Doubles is what I am better at. I wish my body could have held up for me in singles but I’m able to play doubles and am a contender for the title each week that I play. For me, that’s more important.”

Melichar was asked by a reporter during Sunday’s virtual press conference what it meant to reach the Top 10 in doubles after winning her 10th doubles title. She said: “Tenth title and Top 10 … maybe it was meant to be today. It’s not just me. It’s my partner, Demi; it’s my coach, Torsten; my boyfriend, Carlos; my family. It’s a whole village that works behind me. I feel like I’ve worked very hard to improve all of my weakness, but I’ve also improved all my strengths.

“I’m very proud of myself. Top 10 is a milestone I super proud of and excited. It’s not the end goal. Now, I will be raising my goals to Top 5, maybe someday No. 1. I want to try to win a Grand Slam with Demi. There are things I want to continue to train on and improve every day.

“It’s an amazing milestone but there’s still a lot of work ahead. …

“We’re a great team and we just want to keep improving together and pushing each other – making the year-end championships is our goal alongside the grand slams.”

MUSC Health Women’s Open begins in Charleston

The WTA has extended its stay in Charleston, S.C., with the inaugural MUSC Health Women’s Open, a 250-series event on green clay. World No. 27 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who reached the semifinals of last week’s Volvo Car Open, is the top seed at LTP-Daniel Island Tennis Center. She will face Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele in her first-round match Tuesday afternoon. Voegele was a quarterfinalist at the Copa Colsanitas in Bogotá, Colombia last week.

The 32-draw field includes No. 46 Shelby Rogers of the United States, No. 51 Magna Linette of Poland and No. 59 Alizé Cornet from France. Also competing is Volvo Car Open runner up Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, whose ranking improved from 91st to 65th, and Copa Colsanitas champion Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, whose ranking jumped 45 places to No. 135. Plus, there’s No. 112 Sara Errani of Italy, whose 183-career main-draw wins on clay is the most of any active WTA player.

Play began Monday with six first-round singles matches featuring four seeded players. No. 3 Rogers advanced easily 6-0, 6-1 over Caty McNally of the United States; No. 6 Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia defeated Renata Zarazua of Mexico, 6-1, 6-1; and No. 7 Lauren Davis beat Coco Vandeweghe, 7-6 (3), 6-4, in an all-American matchup. However, No. 5 Misaki Doi retired from her match against fellow Japanese Nao Hibino, as the match reached a third-set tie break. Hibino advanced 7-5, 5-7, 6-6, retired.

Monday also featured 18-year-old Danish rising star Clara Tauson, who won her first WTA tour-level singles title last month at the Open 6ème Sens Métropole de Lyon in Lyon, France, on an indoor hard court. The No. 101 Tauson beat No. 109 Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 6-3, 6-3, on Althea Gibson Club Court to break a two-match losing streak.

After her win, Tennis TourTalk asked Tauson how important it was to be able to break her losing streak and complete the match after bruising her left knee falling on the green clay. “The two matches I lost since Lyon have not been the best kind of tennis I’ve played,” she said. “I’m really happy about the win today. Even if I had lost, I would not have lost confidence.

“You know, you have to lose almost every week – and sometimes you win the tournament. I’m pretty clear that the older I get, I will have to lose almost every week. Of course, I’m happy about the win. I think I played a pretty solid match. I know [Liudmila] is a really good player who hits hard. It gives me a boost.”

MUSC Health Women’s Open Monday results

MUSC Health Women’s Open Tuesday order of play

Davis Cup Finals to be spread across three cities

On Monday, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Kosmos Tennis announced that the ITF Board approved proposals to host the 2021 Davis Cup Finals across three European cities. Innsbruck, Austria and Turin, Italy have been selected to host the Finals along with Madrid after submitting successful bids.

The three-venue, 11-day Davis Cup Finals format is designed to improve the schedule for players as well as to enhance fan experience and to bring the competition to a wider audience.

Swiatek: Bypassing Stuttgart to ready for rest of clay season

Reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek posted on her social media platforms Monday that she will bypass playing in next week’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, an indoor red clay WTA 500 event.

What they’re podcasting

Rennae Stubbs catches up with future Hall of Famer Venus Williams in the latest Racquet Magazine podcast.

What they’re writing‘s Steve Tignor writes that the WTA talent pool is deep in 2021; Veronika Kudermetova just made it deeper.

What they’re sharing on social media

Madison Keys / Kindness wins in Charleston

Maria Camila Osorio Serrano / Todavía no lo creo, los sueños se cumplen

Veronika Kudermetova / First champion photo shoot