Stuttgart Doubles Final Presents A Contrast In Team Styles

Coco Gauff (foreground) and Zhang Shuai (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 24, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Sunday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix doubles final in Stuttgart, Germany, presents the top two seeded teams, No. 1 Coco Gauff of the United States and Zhang Shuai of China versus No. 2 Desirae Krawczyk of the United States and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands.

While the top two teams in the 16-team draw in this WTA 500 indoor clay event have emerged according to pre-tournament seeding, there’s an interesting contrast in the composition and style of each pair. One team, Gauff and Zhang, happen to be singles players who enjoy dabbling in doubles to help hone their singles skills and they’ve yet to lose a set. The other, Krawczyk and Schuurs, are doubles specialists by choice and each has enjoyed past success with other partners before coming together this season beginning in Indian Wells.

Until Saturday’s semifinals, each of the two teams had been relegated to playing their early-round matches on Court 1 in a smaller hall attached to the main Center Court inside Porsche Arena. Come Sunday, the doubles final will take place following the singles final between World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland and World No. 4 and third seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, and it will be a chance for each team to showcase their skills and be rewarded by playing in front of an appreciative audience.

Gauff and Zhang – ranked 16th and 40th respectively in singles – advanced with a 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 4 seeds Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Chan Hao-Ching of Taiwan in the semifinal round. Playing together this week for the first time, the 18-year-old Gauff and Zhang, 33, have regular doubles partners they normally pair off with. Gauff has won three titles with fellow American Caty McNally and another one with Jessica Pegula of the U.S, and is currently ranked 10th. Meanwhile, the fifth-ranked Zhang is a four-time doubles titlist and three of them – including two majors – have come with Samantha Stosur of Australia. Both Gauff and Zhang play right-handed.

On the other side of the net, Schuurs is ranked 19th and Krawczyk is 21st. For them, doubles are a full-time thing – and it showed in their 7-6 (4), 1-6, 10-7 win against unseeded Cristina Bucsa of Spain and Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia. Schuurs has played in just one Tour singles match this season and lost in qualifying a couple of weeks ago in Charleston. Ditto for Krawczyk, one and done.

However, when it comes to playing doubles, the left-handed Krawczyk, a resident of Palm Desert, Calif., has won six WTA titles – four with Alexa Guarachi of Chile and two with Giuliana Olmos of Mexico – and she and Neal Skupski of Great Britain teamed to win the 2021 Wimbledon mixed doubles crown. Then, she paired with another Briton, Joe Salisbury, to garner last year’s US Open mixed doubles crown. Krawczyk was also Stuttgart finalist last year teamed with Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States.

Meanwhile, Schuurs, a right-hander from Sittard, Netherlands, is a 14-time WTA Tour champion, including two last year (Doha, Charleston) with American Nicole Melichar. Both 28, Krawczyk and Schuurs are experienced Billie Jean King Cup doubles participants for their respective countries, too.

So, just exactly what makes each of these pairs such formidable teams?

“We click off court and I think that’s something you take with you on court,” Schuurs said in an on-court interview after their semifinal victory Saturday. “I think Desirae is very good from the back and she can set me up at the net. That’s our strength.”

Said Gauff during an on-court interview after her semifinal win: “I think we’re just a strong team. We both hit big returns and today we were ripping them. Shuai plays super positive on the court and keeps me grounded, I guess.”

What skills are unique to doubles compared to singles?

“There’s a lot,” Krawczyk admitted. “I think you have to have an instinct at the net and have a good partner who can set you up – and have good chemistry on and off the court. I think it helps.”

Said Zhang: “Normally we only warm up for doubles. We practice our singles [individually] and have really good practices. Of course, before the doubles matches, we talk.”

Can one good doubles team beat two good singles players?

“I think there are a lot of great singles players out there who can also play doubles,” Krawczyk said. “But I think we have that edge because we know how to play doubles and know tactics. But I think everyone’s good.”

When Gauff was asked if she plans to complement her singles career by continuing to regularly play doubles, she smiled at the question and replied: “Sure, I love tennis and I love playing as much as possible.

“Right now, physically, I am able to handle it. [Doubles] helps me with my singles. Sometimes, I hit shots [in doubles] that I wish I was able to in my [singles] match before. It’s okay. … In singles, you are covering the whole court, whereas in doubles, you have a little bitty lane [to control].”

When they were asked if the were going to go all the way and win the Stuttgart title, which includes winning a TAG Heuer luxury wristwatch along with the usual prize money and rankings points, Krawczyk exclaimed: “We’re going to try our best!”