The Doors’ “Love Me Two Times” echoed around a near-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium shortly before the climactic tie breaker of today’s US Open women’s final while Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova both bounced on their feet in nervous anticipation as if trying to tap thumb tacks into the court with the soles of their shoes. It was an appropriate anthem for the pair whose affection for doubles is so strong they seem to play every point as if powered by passion.
Minutes later, they were moving their feet in unison on championship point, eye-to-eye with Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova entrenched at net rapidly repelling every drive streaming at them with reflex volleys.
That’s when Shvedova took decisive action: She took touch to new heights.
Taking a small step back, Shvedova measured her shot and lofted an exquisite rainbow lob down the line directly over the 5-foot-10 Petrova’s head. Working the short court down the line is a difficult shot under any circumstances — it’s downright demanding given the magnitude of the moment.
“Up! Up! Up! Up!” Huber urged, imploring her partner to take a leap at the sailing shot that carried championship hopes in its flight.
Petrova jumped, but the yellow ball floated like a runaway kite beyond her outstretched Babolat racquet,slowly spiraled in the air for what seemed to be several seconds before kissing the corner of the blue court for a clean winner to complete a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) victory as King and Shvedova captured their first US Open championship and second consecutive major following their title triumph at Wimbledon in July.
“For me, it was like slow motion. It’s like in the movie. It’s unreal,” Shvedova said of her winning lob. “But for me it was like this. I saw the ball was so slow. Vania was on the left, I was just waiting, and I saw Nadia was trying to get it. Then I was like then she didn’t get it. People start to scream, and I was like I didn’t feel like we won. It was so strange.”
The stroke of genius was a shot of relief for King, who watched the end of the final exchange unfold in silent prayer.
“She played like 10 balls in a row. It was like, ‘Okay. Hit a winner, please hit a winner, please hit a winner, please hit a winner, please miss, please miss, ‘ ” King said of her internal emotional dialogue. “Then she hit the lob, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s deep.’ So if it goes in, we win. If it doesn’t, we lose the point. Then it’s the next point. I was like, Go in, go in, go in, go in.”
It went in, but Shvedova, who hit also gorgeous backhand lob winner to hold serve at 5-6 and force the breaker, did not actually see the shot land. She felt its impact in King’s leap of joy.
“They didn’t call anything. I turned to Vania, and Vania jumped. I was like so happy,” Shvedova said.
Petrova, who would come in second place in emanating positive energy even if Eyore was her opponent in a singles match, had a slightly less enthusiastic response to the winner — she flung her Babolat racquet in frustration at her court side chair.
“There’s nothing you can do. I mean, I could just applaud her,” Petrova said. “Well done. We were trying out hard and to give all today, and absolutely no regret.”
The softest shot of the rally had the most resounding impact of the match, sealing the first US Open doubles for the pair, who raised their Grand Slam record together to 12-0. It’s a remarkable achievement when you consider King and Shvedova won only one match together during the US Open Series.
Sisters Venus Williams and Serena Williams had won six of the last nine Grand Slam doubles titles prior, but with Serena forced out of this Open with a foot injury the sisters were unable to defend their title. King and Shvedova, who became the first player from Kazakhstan to win a US Open title of any kind, saw the opportunity and made the most of it.
They have won the first two Grand Slam tournaments they’ve played and the speed of their success an ease of their partnership — they sometimes answer questions as if setting each other up for a response — has surprised both of them.
“I don’t think we expected it as well, because usually great pairs pair together for a long time to know each other, and they really get a feel for each other and become a true team,” King said. “We had that from the beginning. I mean, we bonded together so well and we’re also good friends, which helped. Yeah, like she said, it’s strange. I mean, it’s amazing.”
Shvedova celebrated her 23rd birthday yesterday with King and a cake they ate inside the WTA Tour office upstairs inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Birthday banter did not include the 6-2, 2-6, 5-4 deficit the pair faced when rain postponed the doubles final on Sunday, forcing the USTA to schedule completion of the match at 3 p.m. today.
“Then when they canceled us, we went to dinner, and we were just focusing on her birthday,” King said. “It’s pretty special for her, for her birthday. And then today, yeah, we decided to make a long warm up. We don’t really talk that much about tennis off the court. Our coaches like to do that.”
Huber partnered with Bob Bryan to win the US Open mixed doubles title and has been a pivotal player on the United States’ Fed Cup team that will host Italy in the November 6-7th final at the San Diego Sports Arena. Huber, who has a charitable foundation and supports social causes around the Houston area, was philosophical in defeat.
“I think we, as athletes, are very fortunate. We can bring something good from the sport back to the normal life,” Huber said. “We can kind of relate. So in the tough times that we, are and maybe when you lose a point or you lose a close match like this when you’ve actually had an opportunity, you could walk away from it and sulk and not learn, or you could just say, ‘Okay, this is an opportunity to grow.’ And if you do okay in the bad times, imagine how good you’re gonna do when times turn around.”
Doubles is often relegated to the outer courts in the shadows of Arthur Ashe Stadium on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. A sad irony when you consider both Ashe and King were outstanding doubles players and that most of the tennis-playing fans who watch the Open play doubles. But when you rewind the highlight reel of this US Open consider that two of the most spirited and excited matches of the Flushing Meadows fortnight were contested on the doubles court. Twins Bob and Mike Bryan outdueled India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, 7-6(5), 7-6(4) to capture their third US Open championship and ninth Grand Slam title before an appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd that gave all four men a rousing ovation at the conclusion of a memorable match and King and Shvedova prevailed before a sparse, but adoring group of fans today.
There’s something about seeing two athletes put their heads, hearts and spirits together on the court. Two were truly one when it mattered most today.
“Doubles is a team sport. It’s not like singles where sometimes it’s just power,” said King. “I mean, I think especially in the woman’s tennis there is a lot of finesse, a lot of touch. We try to play with combination. I don’t think we play like a typical team, and I think it kind of throws off our opponents. I think that people can see us playing and kind of aspire to that, you know, because it’s more about strategy where you place yourself, what shots to pick. You don’t have to be like 6’4″, 200 pounds and bash the ball.In doubles it’s a lot of creativity.”
Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.