There is added drama attached to the semi-final doubles matches at the O2 Arena, where the Nitto ATP Finals are being staged for the last time and the conclusion of a decade of indoor tennis in London draws near to a close on Sunday.
To be honest, I don’t really know what we need [this evening]. We are going to watch because we love doubles, we love entertainment. I think we did what we had to do, which is win the match. Right now, it is not in our hands anymore. We have just got to wait and hopefully we come back to play another match tomorrow. Bruno Soares
If Joe Salisbury & Rajeev Ram can defeat Jurgen Melzer & Edouard Roger-Vasselin in Saturday’s evening session, then they will finish the season ranked doubles No 1 World, but should they lose, Mate Pavic & Bruno Soares will be the year-end top team, and they will not be playing in the last 4, such are the vagaries of the rankings and round robin play.
Entering Friday’s action, Marcel Granollers & Horacio Zeballos also had a chance to make No 1, but they had to become undefeated champions to do so, and the Spanish/Argentine duo fell short when Jurgen Melzer & Edouard Roger-Vasselin secured their spot at the top of Group Bob Bryan following Granollers’ retirement in the opening set, 6-6 [1-0].
Melzer & Roger-Vasselin faced a tough task as they needed to win in straight sets to book their place in the last 4, and they fell behind early in the match as Granollers & Zeballos took control at the get-go, breaking at 2-1 and leading for most of the opening set.
They served for the opener, but were broken as the 7th seeds came roaring back and levelled the score at 5-5.
Granollers, who had been struggling with a shoulder injury that required a medical time out late in the set, found himself unable to continue and retired from the match, one point into the first-set tiebreak.
As a result, Melzer & Roger-Vasselin soared to the top of Group Bob Bryan, sealing their spot in the semi-finals as they continued their search for their first Nitto ATP Finals title.
Granollers & Zeballos also advanced to the semi-finals, with the Spaniard the only player left standing who has lifted the doubles trophy at the season finale when he was victorious in 2012 alongside Marc Lopez.
Earlier in the day, Pavic & Soares had increased their chances of reaching the semi-finals with a 6-7(2), 6-3, [10-8] win against John Peers & Michael Venus but had to wait until the evening session to find out if they had qualified for the last 4.
”To be honest, I don’t really know what we need [this evening],” said Soares in an on-court interview. “We are going to watch because we love doubles, we love entertainment.
“I think we did what we had to do, which is win the match. Right now, it is not in our hands anymore. We have just got to wait and hopefully we come back to play another match tomorrow.”
The top seeds, who won their maiden Grand Slam trophy as a team at the US Open in September, were seeking their second title of 2020, and broke serve in the opening game with sharp returning, winning their first 16 points on serve to establish a 5-3 lead.
Peers & Venus needed a straight sets to keep their qualification hopes alive, and made a remarkable comeback, with the Kiwi saving 4 consecutive set points with powerful serving and the Aussie rescuing 2 more in the following game to level the score at 5-5.
The 6th seeds rode the momentum into the tiebreak and converted their first set point when Pavic failed to control a backhand return.
Asked in the on-court interview about what they were saying to each other after failing to convert 6 set points in the first set, Soares responded: “Let’s book the flight home, that is what we said!
“[It was] another tough set that we lost,” added the Brazilian. “We played extremely well [in the] first set and it is tough to lose a set like this.
“It was quite a similar story the other day. I think we both stayed calm… tried to keep the cool. We were both pretty upset with the first set and I think we managed to do that.”
Pavic & Soares recovered from the disappointment of dropping the first set, as they extracted volley errors to earn break point at 2-1 in the second.
Soares converted the pair’s first opportunity with a backhand winner down the line, and Pavic held his nerve at the net to clinch the set on a deciding point at 5-3.
In the match tiebreak, Pavic & Soares rallied from 5/7 by winning 5 of the next 6 points to earn their second win of the week, Pavic converting their second match point with a swinging ace out wide.
Peers & Venus finished Group Bob Bryan with a 0-3 record and although their tournament is over, a stroke of luck means the Kiwi can now make it home to New Zealand in time for Christmas after a stroke of luck.
Venus is among many Kiwi ex-pats desperately trying to find a place to quarantine in the end of year exodus back to New Zealand soil but, with spaces fully booked out, the only way to get into managed isolation is if another person pulls out, and Venus happened to get lucky.
“This week I’ve been on the website, five hours a day or so, hitting refresh constantly hoping potentially someone cancels their voucher and I managed to actually nab one for the 23rd of November, so I’m on a flight tomorrow night out of London here and arrive Monday morning in Auckland,” he said.
Had the pair succeeded in securing a semi-finals place, Venus’ hopes of a New Zealand Christmas with his wife and daughter would have been dashed.
“If we’d won today, obviously, it wouldn’t of been possible to use this voucher ,so i guess there’s a positive in potentially not being in the semi finals here tomorrow,” he added.
“I’m really excited to get back home and see Sally and Lila and actually be able to be in some open spaces and not be confined to a hotel room.”
For the top seeds, Pavic & Soares, their match tiebreak win was their last together and it put them behind to end Group Bob Bryan with a 2-1 record, so it is Granollers & Zeballos who will meet Wesley Koolhof & Nikola Mektic in Saturday’s semi-final.
Soares will team up with Britain’s Jamie Murray next season.
“Mate came to me at the end of last week and decided that he wanted to split and he had different plans for 2021,” Soares said. “Jamie found out the news, came to talk to me and find out my plans.
“To be honest I didn’t really have any plans because I was trying to focus on the tournament here.
“It seemed to me a great idea. I really like Jamie as a person, as a player. We had a lot of success together. I think we’re both more experienced, more mature now. I’m really looking forward for next year.”
Murray and Soares held an awkward press conference together after their split was revealed during the French Open last year, but the Brazilian insisted there were no hard feelings.
“It’s like a marriage,” he said. “At the end sometimes, the routine, it just gets to you.
“Jamie needed a change. I appreciate him because he was always very honest about it and when he came to talk to me I completely understood.
“For me, first thing you’ve got to be happy on court, and if you’re not really feeling happy, you’ve got to do something to be happy, and he felt that the change was necessary. We were still playing great tennis.”
The 38-year-old added: “I think the advantage we have is, with a lot of teams changing for next season, we are not really a change. We know each other extremely well and I don’t think it’s going to take long for us to click.
“We dream about winning those tournaments as a kid and that’s what I want to keep on trying to do. Me and Jamie, we’ve done that before, so I really trust we can do it again.”