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Two top singles players = a doubles team?

Posted on March 9, 2012 in Tournaments

Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka playing doubles at BNP Paribas Open

One of the matches I was most looking forward to on Thursday was a first round women’s doubles match featuring world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and No. 3 Petra Kvitova, who are playing doubles for the first time together as wildcards.

As I eagerly awaited the arrival of the doubles partners, I waited patiently in the media room on center court for a men’s singles first round match to finish. Women’s doubles matches don’t usually garner a lot of attention, but with two top women’s singles players teaming up the crowd was slightly larger than I had expected with around 5,000 spectators. Over the loud speaker, the crowd was informed the match would be played as two no-ad sets. If the sets are split, a 10-point tiebreak determines the winner. I like this rule, and I think it will keep the doubles matches exciting and fast paced.

Around 3:30 p.m., both teams were announced and walked onto the court. First out were Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Uhilrova, and Azarenka and Kvitova followed. Azarenka was sporting her Wilson BLX Juice 100 racquet and Nike Lunar Speed 3 shoes. Kvitova was in similar fashion with a Wilson BLX Steam 100 racquet and Nike Zoom Breathe 2K11 shoes. During the warm-up, Kvitova took the duece side as a lefty and Vika took the ad side.

As the match started, the first thing I noticed was how aggressive the team of Azarenka/Kvitova was. They immediately attacked the return of serve and the net player was looking to poach. This aggression lead to a break of serve in the first game.

Azarenka/Kvitova jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. I noticed both teams do not use signals and instead talk strategy before each point. The teams have similar strategies consisting of the baseline player hitting deep cross court with the net player looking to poach. Grandin/Uhilrova, who both have successful doubles careers, found their footing, broke Azarenka, and then held to make the score 3-2.

Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka

From there on, Azarenka and Kvitova cruised to take the first set 6-2. The difference between the teams, I thought, was the world No. 1 and 3’s use of the down-the-line passing shot. They used this shot quite frequently to keep the other team “honest” and preventing their opponents from poaching as much.

The second set went the exact same way. Azarenka/Kvitova got up a quick 3-0 with Grandin/Uhilrova crawling back to 3-2 and then Azarenka/Kvitova closing out the match 6-2. Azarenka/Kvitova looked in complete control up at the net while the other team appeared to be scraping by to win points. Both Azarenka and Kvitova hung back when the other was returning bigger first serves from Grandin/Uhilorva. Azarenka stayed back at the baseline instead of playing at net, while Kvitova played a couple feet behind the service line.

I think Azarenka/Kvitova have a strong chance of going very deep in this draw, if not winning it. A couple keys to success, I think, will be to get their first serve percentage up a little higher to take advantage of their powerful serves and to use different set-ups such as the “I” formation to put even more pressure on their opponents’ return of serve.

To end the match, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Kvitova, who turned 22. To answer to the question most people were thinking, How did you guys decide to play doubles?, Victoria replied, “My coach took Petra’s coach out for a beer, and it came up some time during the conversation.” That earned a good laugh from the crowd as they walked off the court.

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