Britain’s Joe Salisbury and his American partner, Rajeev Ram won a tense US Open men’s doubles final over fellow Brit, Neal Skupski and his Dutch partner Wesley Koolhof on Friday. But, in light of the news that was filtering around the world about the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth, the World’s No 1 doubles player didn’t feel like celebrating too much.
I can't quite believe we're standing here again - to have won this twice in a row is amazing Joe Salibury
“We wanted to show a sign of respect and acknowledgement of the situation we are in; it’s a huge moment in our history,” said 30-year-old Salisbury who, together with Skupski, wore a black armband and ribbon respectively. “I think it didn’t feel appropriate to be overly celebrating, or at least showing that too much, because obviously everybody back home and around the world is in mourning at the moment. It’s a very sad time.”
Salisbury’s dignified response to the pair’s 7-6 7-5 win, which saw them retain the title that they won last year, (the first pair to retain the title since Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge won back-to-back doubles titles in 1995 and 1996) was in keeping with the mood of a nation in shock.
Given the circumstances, it was to their credit that both Salisbury and Skupski and their partners delivered such a close, absorbing and dramatic encounter as they did.
The first set featured just one break point, sending it into an inevitable tie break, which turned out to be as thrilling as the exchanges leading up to it. Skupski and Koolhof raced into a 4-1 lead before the champions reeled of six consecutive points to give them a set advantage.
The Anglo Dutch pairing started the second set strongly, gaining a break of serve in the opening game, only for them to forfeit that advantage a game later, bringing the set back to parity and service holds back to the fore.
Enthralled fans had to wait until the 8th game for another break of serve, this one to Salisbury and Ram who then needed just one match point to win their third Grand Slam doubles title together.
“I can’t quite believe we’re standing here again – to have won this twice in a row is amazing” said Salisbury, who, had he lost in the final, would have relinquished his World No 1 ranking to Skupski, a measure, perhaps of his accomplishment, especially as he came into the tournament with very little tennis under his belt. He revealed in a post-match interview that he had been spending most of his time since Wimbledon in the gym or in the treatment room, nursing a back injury!
A disappointed Skupski played his part in such unusual circumstances, and perhaps he spoke for all British players at the US Open when he said, “It is a bit strange playing when the country is in mourning. She (Queen Elizabeth) was a great servant and we will remember she was an incredible woman.”
The Women’s doubles title went to the established Czech pairing and No 3 seeds, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who had to come from a set down to beat the unseeded American duo of Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend. Not only did they come from a set and 1-4 down, they went on to win 12 of the last 14 games to seal their 3-6 7-5 6-1 victory, their sixth career Grand Slam doubles title and their third this calendar year following success in Australia and Wimbledon.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this latest success. Their partnership started way back when they were juniors and they won their first Grand Slam doubles title in Paris in 2018, something that Siniakova, now the WTA world No 1 doubles player, acknowledged.
“This journey is so long and I’m so happy we keep going,” she said. “We’re trying to improve and I appreciate it that we’re still playing together and that things are going well.”
“I don’t know how this is happening,” Krejcikova said about the pair’s 18-0 match winning streak in Grand Slams this year which, as well as their win in the final, included an impressive semi-final victory over the 10th seeds, American Nicole Melichar and lefty Australian, Ellen Perez who themselves can boast 17 WTA titles between them. “I found the season really difficult, especially this match. It was really hard for us, and the level was pretty high from both sides. At the end, I was just trying to fight and it’s amazing that we won another Slam and that our team is doing great, great stuff.”
For McNally, the defeat, her second consecutive doubles loss in New York, was hard to take. Last year, she partnered Coco Gauff to defeat in three sets at the hands of Stosur and Zhang. This year, she and Townsend came into the tournament unseeded and without a doubles win on the Tour to their name. Nevertheless, Townsend, who gave birth to her first child, Adyn, in March 2021, wasn’t too downhearted.
“This has been such an amazing journey,” she said. “This one hurts, but this isn’t the last time I’m going to be out here. Watch out for 2023.”
Had they won the title, they would have been the first US team to win their home doubles title since 2011. They seemed on course when they defeated the No 12 seeds Caroline Dolehide from the US and her Australian partner Storm Sanders in their semi-final, coming from a set down to win 1-6 6-, 6-3 in 94-minutes. But in the end, experience told, and it was the Czechs who triumphed.
The mixed doubles title went to Australian debutant pairing of Melbourne based John Peers, now 34, a serial mixed doubles competitor in Grand Slams, who teamed up with fellow Aussie, 28-year-old left hander, Storm Sanders to come from behind to win an epic encounter over the French Belgian combination of Kirsten Flipkens and Edouard Roger-Vasselin,
They hadn’t played together before but their individual records, which included Peers’ 2017 men’s doubles success at the Australian Open and Sanders’ two Grand Slam semi-finals and a quarter final, earned them fourth seeding.
“We sort of said a few months back, ‘Look, if we don’t do really well with a different partner, let’s try to do the US,'” explained Peers. “We sort of held off.”
As well as in the final itself, their experience got them over the line in their run to the title, edging out two American pairings, last year’s defeated singles runner-up Leylah Fernandez (remember her?) and former men’s doubles champion Jack Sock in the quarters, and Caty McNally and William Blumberg in the semis.
In the end, their hooking up proved to be a good call, the 6’2” inches Peers and the 5’5” inch Queenslander, Sanders winning their final 4-6 6-4 10-7.
“I trusted Johnny on his serves and volleys,” Sanders said. “The tiebreaker a blur but I remember hoping that he would hit a good serve on match point.”