Belgium’s Elise Mertens will return to WTA Doubles World No 1 after she and her Taiwanese partner Hsieh Su-wei defeated Shuko Aoyama & Ena Shibahara from Japan to reach the Wimbledon Ladies Doubles final where they will meet the Russian pair of Veronika Kudermetova & Elena Vesnina, who saved 3 match points in their semi-final comeback win over Australia’s Storm Sanders & American Caroline Dolehide.
I think we took our time a little bit, I think to feel each other better on court, what she’s doing, what I’m doing, where I have to go, I think that’s the most important thing, the most important improvement and of course the trust in each other and the confidence in yourself. Elise Mertens
In their final marathon game, Hsieh & Mertens endured 6 deuces, faced 5 break points and held 3 match points before nailing their win over the Japanese 5th seeds, 6-4 1-6 6-3.
Their relief was tangible, not only because the win secured the No 3 seeds secured their first Grand Slam final together, but also because Mertens is now guaranteed a return to the doubles No 1 spot.
“I was very happy to win the last game because you never know what’s going to happen after,” Mertens said afterwards. “I was happy I could serve it out. Eventually we got it so I was so relieved.”
Mertens won this year’s Australian Open and the 2019 US Open alongside Aryna Sabalenka, and is now into her first Wimbledon final.
Playing on No 1 Court, Shibahara did not drop a point on serve in the first set, but flying volleys and sturdy returns by Hsieh led her team to a love break of Aoyama at 3-3, and Hsieh & Mertens eased through the rest of the opener to take the one-set lead.
In the second, deft returns by Aoyama bolstered Shibahara’s powerful deliveries and overheads, steering her team to level footing at one set apiece.
In the third set, though, Hsieh & Mertens took charge with pinpoint volley winners by both, to break Aoyama once more for a 3-1 lead.
A 5-2 lead started to dwindle and Mertens struggled on her serve in the 9th game at 5-3 when aggressive play by the Japanese duo helped them grab 5 break points, as they tried to keep the tilt active.
The Belgian, however, found a bevy of key service winners to grit through the protracted game, and she finally closed the match out with an ace on her 3rd match point.
“I think we took our time a little bit, I think to feel each other better on court, what she’s doing, what I’m doing, where I have to go, I think that’s the most important thing, the most important improvement and of course the trust in each other and the confidence in yourself,” said Mertens, reflecting on the tricky start they had to their doubles partnership.
Mertens & Hsieh’s last two tournaments prior to their arrival at Wimbledon had ended in major disappointment.
They were up 5-1 in the deciding set against Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Iga Swiatek at Roland-Garros in the round of 16, but crashed out to the eventual runners-up after holding 7 match points.
In their next tournament on the grass courts of Birmingham, Hsieh & Mertens led Ons Jabeur & Ellen Perez by a set and 5-0, and held 5 match points, but still lost in three against the Tunisian-Australian duo.
“The first few tournaments I was a little bit confused, like, ‘Who are you?’” Hsieh said bursting into laughter as she discussed their new partnership, which began in late April. “And now we started to communicate more, so that helps a lot.
“I’d like to congratulate Elise for going back to No 1. It doesn’t matter if we win or not, we’re going to try our best.”
Hsieh is the most recent doubles champion at the All England Club, having triumphed alongside Barbora Strycova here in 2019, while the 35-year-old also scooped the title with Peng Shuai back in 2013.
Mertens was unaware she had sealed the top doubles ranking with their semi-final victory until her mother informed her after the match, and the Belgian remains focused on the final.
“I’ll be happy to be back at that place because I’ve only been there for one week,” Mertens added with a giggle, referring to her previous one-week stay at the top during the clay season. “I’m just focusing on the match more than the position, because it’s more important.”
Aoyama & Shibahara and will now shift their focus to their home Olympics, where they will join forces in women’s doubles.
The 23-year-old Shibahara can take confidence from her semi-final showing on her Wimbledon debut this fortnight, while Aoyama can celebrate returning to the last four at the Championships for the first time since 2013.
In the title match, Hsieh & Mertens will take on Kudermetova & Vesnina after the Russian duo saved 3 match points and climbed from 2-5 down in the decider en route to a 7-6(6) 3-6 7-5 success over Storm Sanders & Caroline Dolehide.
Vesnina is making her first appearance at SW19 since she won the doubles title here in 2017 alongside Ekaterina Makarova after the Russian veteran made a surprise comeback to tennis in March following a 3-year hiatus during which she had her first child.
She is now into her 6th Grand Slam doubles final, while Kudermetova will be contesting her first.
Kudermetova & Vesnina collected the last 5 games of the match from 2-5 down to triumph after 2-and-a-half hours of play.
The Russians had already staged a comeback to win the first set, fighting back from 4-6 and double set point down in the tiebreak with exceptional net play, but the powerful groundstroke play by Dolehide & Sanders helped them hold their nerve in the second, as they levelled the affair at one set all.
In an enthralling decider, Kudermetova had to save a whopping 5 break points on her service to prevent her team from falling behind 5-1, but the Russians pulled out that game with positive play by Vesnina, before a Dolehide volley winner in the next game allowed the American-Australian team to reach 5-2.
Serving for the match at 5-3, though, Dolehide dropped serve for the first time all day, and the Russians charged forward, picking off winners to break to love and pulling back on serve.
Nevertheless, after another Kudermetova double-fault in the following game, Dolehide & Sanders reached match point but they could not convert it, nor the other two that followed, and the Russian was able to serve her way out of trouble for 5-5.
In the final two games, the Russians took charge at the net, with a Kudermetova put-away leading to a pivotal break of Sanders, then continuing to storm into the forecourt to garner a love hold by Vesnina.
Vesnina now joins fellow former WTA Doubles World No 1 players Hsieh and Mertens in the final and seeks her 4th Grand Slam women’s doubles title, and her second at Wimbledon, having won with Ekaterina Makarova in 2017, while Kudermetova is into her first Grand Slam doubles final.