Croatia’s Wesley Koolhof & Nikola Mektic from the Netherlands won their first doubles title as a team at the Nitto ATP Finals on Sunday, sealing their maiden title together by defeating Austria’s Jurgen Melzer & France’s Edouard Roger Vasselin, 6-2 4-6 [10-5], after 76 minutes of play at the O2 Arena.
It’s very big to win the final of the Nitto ATP Finals and we are extremely happy to have won. Nikola Mektic
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s not just the way to finish this year.,” said Mektic, who was the dominant player of the match. “This is something to remember throughout the whole life. This is for sure the biggest achievement of my life and of my career.
“It’s a great way to finish the year and there are a lot of reasons to celebrate now. It’s our first title together. Not bad for a first one. It’s been a great tournament for us.”
Koolhof & Mektic made their debut as a team in January in Adelaide, and lost their first two finals in Marseille and at the US Open before reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
The Croatian/Dutch duo looked dangerous from the outset, firing returns to go up 15-40 on Roger-Vasselin’s opening service game.
Although the Frenchman pulled back to deuce, Koolhof & Mektic won the deciding point to pocket the first break.
The Croat’s returns were low and tricky, and helped to score the double break at 3-1 while, 3 holds later, as Roger-Vasselin was serving again and the opening scenario was repeated, Koolhof & Mektic pulled further ahead, and consolidated for 5-1.
While Melzer held to love to narrow the gap, Mektic served the first set out, yet to drop a single point on his delivery, 6-2.
After getting broken twice in the first set, Roger-Vasselin started the second with a determined hold to love and it set the tone for a comeback as he and Melzer orchestrated their first break of the match on Mektic’s serve at 2-1, taking it on the deciding point.
It was all holds from there on in, with Roger-Vasselin serving the second set out, 6-3, and taking the final into the deciding match tiebreak.
Koolhof & Mektic got the early mini-break and held on to take a 4-1 lead in the breaker after a stunning around-the-net forehand.
Melzer & Roger-Vasselin rallied back to tie proceedings at 5-5 with confidence, but then went on to lose the next 5 points, finally losing the match, somewhat limply, on a Melzer double-fault.
Koolhof becomes the 4th Dutchman to win the ATP Finals title, following in the footsteps of two-time champions Jacco Eltingh & Paul Haaruis in 1993 and 1995 and Jean Julien Rojer in 2015, while Mektic is making his own history in becoming the first Croatian player to win an ATP Final.
“Paul and Jacco were one of the best, maybe the best doubles team, before the Bryans started playing,” said Koolhof. “I think they achieved so many things and it is always nice when you walk to Centre Court here to see their names on the wall two times and, even, Jules Rojer is up there.
“He was always the one, especially in my era, that I looked up against to try to beat him. He was always the number 1 in Holland. It means a lot that I am alongside those three big names in Holland and that I am the last one.
“It’s a dream come true to have qualified here for this event. We managed to play some very good tennis and made it through the group stage.
“We won yesterday, played a very good match yesterday. We played the final here today, which is always a dream.
“It’s very big to win the final of the Nitto ATP Finals and we are extremely happy to have won”, Koolhof added.
A few weeks ago, the 39-year-old Melzer revealed that the 2021 Australian Open will be the last tournament of his professional tennis career.
The Austrian then went on to reach the ATP Finals for the 3rd time in his career, making it out of the group stages for the first time alongside Roger-Vasselin after a stunning semi-final comeback over Joe Salisbury & Rajeev Ram.
”It was a hell of a ride. We have been fighting hard since Roland Garros, played almost every week to get here and then coming to the Nitto ATP Finals is a great achievement,” said Melzer. “Of course it stings today, and it hurts, but in the end, we’re going to look back at being runners-up here.
“The Nitto [ATP Finals] is the pinnacle of our sport. Every player wants to be part of this event. I was lucky enough to make it three times, and I will always look back and cherish this moment.”
Roger-Vasselin confirmed that this was the pair’s last match together and he is reported to be teaming up with Henri Kontinen.
”Thanks Jurgen for this great year. [It was our] last match together today,” said Roger-Vasselin. “We wish we could have the other trophy, but it was a long, long journey to come to London and get to the final.
“Maybe after a couple of days I will realise it was a good week. But right now, it’s painful.”
Melzer & Roger-Vasselin provided one of the best stories of the tournament as, probably, the biggest underdogs as the last team to qualify.
They lost their opening match to Mate Pavic & Bruno Soares, but then beat John Peers & Michael Venus in dramatic fashion, 12-10, in the match tiebreak, and needed a straight-sets win to advance to the semi-finals against Marcel Granollers & Horacio Zeballos, who had to retire from the match in the first set through injury.
They then defeated Joe Salisbury & Rajeev Ram in the semi-finals, pulling off a remarkable comeback from 2-7 down in the match tiebreak to win through.
Salisbury & Ram would have leapfrogged Pavic & Soares to the year-end World No 1 doubles ranking with a win at the Nitto Finals, so the Croatian/Brazilian pair have taken the top spot.
“I think it’s a massive achievement and it shows how well we played throughout the year,” Soares told the ATP.
“How consistent we were, winning big tournaments. So it’s a special thanks to Mate and our team.
“t’s very nice to start our first day of vacation celebrating a huge achievement like this.”
Remarkably, 10 of the 15 doubles matches at the O2 this year required a match tiebreak to resolve, which just goes to show how close the rivalries are.
The conclusion of the ATP Finals signals a change in partners for many of the top teams, with Soares returning to play with Jamie Murray and Koolhof joining forces with Lukasz Kubot, while Mektic pairs up with fellow countryman Pavic with the Olympics in mind for Croatia.
After 12 years, 8 different singles champions and 10 doubles team champions, plus 2.8m fans passing through the doors of the O2 Arena, London has waved goodbye to the ATP Finals.
2020 will always stand out as extraordinary year due to COVID-19, with no fans inside the O2 to watch the world’s best doubles players or see Daniil Medvedev lift the trophy after his memorable win over Dominic Thiem in this final year in London before it moves to Turin next year.
O2 tennis fans, however, do have something to look forward to and that is the Laver Cup, which will be staged in London in September 2022.