In a depleted men’s doubles draw, the last two teams will square off for the US Open crown Saturday evening in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The matchup? No. 6 seeds Mariusz Fyrstenberg-Marcin Matkowski vs. No. 9 seeds Jurgen Melzer-Philipp Petzschner.
The top four seeded teams all failed to reach the semifinals. World No. 1 Bob and Mike Bryan went out in a first-round shocker, second seeds Max Mirnyi-Daniel Nestor fell in the second round, No. 3 seeds Michael Llodra-Nenad Zimonjic were upset in the third round, and fourth-seeded Mahesh Bhupathi-Leander Paes were knocked out by Fyrstenberg-Matkowski in the quarterfinals.
Melzer and Petzschner came through the top half of the draw and did not face a seeded team en route to their second Grand Slam final. They captured the Wimbledon title last season in a magical run as an unseeded duo and are excited to be back in another major final.
“It feels great to be able to play in another final of a Grand Slam event. It’s huge for us,” says Petzschner. “We haven’t really had the chance this year to play a lot of matches because both of us were injured at one time. Now we are in the final of a Grand Slam, so there is nothing better.”
The Austrian Melzer and the German Petzschner first came together in Brisbane last season, and after winning Wimbledon and qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, the two haven’t fell victim to a sophomore slump in 2011, winning titles at Rotterdam and Stuttgart and reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, where they fell to eventual champions Bob and Mike Bryan. Melzer finds that while both he and his partner are focused on singles first, they recognize doubles is a different game to singles, and that’s why they have been a successful pair.
“I think we’re both good tennis players. We’re both good in singles, but we understand the game of doubles, and I think that makes us very dangerous,” declares Melzer.
“When we have played together, we’ve always played well. We are confident on the court, and I think that’s a big thing. Coming into a major and believing you can win it I think is something you have to work on. You have to gain trust in yourself. and I think that’s what we’ve done over the last year.”
Petzschner has found that competing in doubles has translated to improvements with his singles game. “Playing doubles helps us improve our singles game, especially our serves and returns. We practice a lot of coming in.”
On the contrary to Melzer and Petzschner, Fyrstenberg and Matkowski are one of the most established teams on the ATP World Tour but had never been able to break through at a major, until now, their 29th Grand Slam event appearance together. They’ve played exceptional tennis at Flushing Meadows to get to their first major final, taking out Bhupathi and Paes in the quarterfinals and defeating last year’s finalists Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi in a convincing semifinal victory.
“Before the first part of the season wasn’t so good, so it’s surprising a little bit to us,” Fyrstenberg admits to USOpen.org. “But we’ve played really well this tournament, so it’s a great feeling, and I think we deserve it.”
Coming into the US Open, the Poles sported just a 9-19 record and went out in the first round at both the French Open and Wimbledon. Not too proud to play an ITF circuit event, the two won a Challenger title in Sopot, Poland, which boosted their confidence heading into the Olympus US Open Series.
“We wanted to get some matches because we didn’t get many during the summer season in Europe,” says Matkowski. “That was good for us, we won the tournament. A very good crowd showed up for the final, and it was a good experience. Right now, I think it’s helping us.”
Despite their struggles this season, Fyrstenberg and Matkowski have the benefit of a long-standing friendship to get them through tough times.
“We have the advantage that we’ve played so many years together. We know each other really well,” Fyrstenberg says. “We are good friends off the court. We always keep trying and keep going. We know when we are in good form, we can beat any team in the world.”
Melzer echoed similar thoughts to Fyrstenberg, believing the camaraderie he shares with Petzschner on and off the court plays a pivotal role.
“It’s a really big advantage having someone I get along with so well to my right,” states Melzer. “I know if we’re down and out, I can lift him up or vice versa. We sometimes don’t need a lot of words to say what we want to say. It can help on a tennis court. The biggest thing is that we enjoy every single minute when we’re out there.”
The two finalists have met just once, at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals last season. The Poles won the round-robin encounter, 6-3, 7-6 (7), but Petzschner was coming off an injury, something Matkowski is well aware of.
“We played them last year in London and won, but Petzschner was a bit injured, so it will for sure be a different match of a different caliber, playing for a Grand Slam title,” assesses Matkowski. “They’re a great team. They’re very good singles players but also play well in doubles. It’s a tough match for us. If we play well, it will be a little bit up to us, especially if we are serving well, because it’s tough to break us. We just have to focus on our game.”
A win for either team would virtually guarantee their return to the season-ending championships in London, an aspiration that Melzer and Petzschner have had their eyes on from the start of the season.
“Last year, we qualified, but the problem was he got injured after the US Open, so we didn’t have any preparation going into London,” says Melzer. “This year, knock on wood, hopefully if we qualify, we’ll go there as possible contenders to win the whole thing.”
Though neither team was favored to win the US Open at the start of the event, both have peaked at the right time, and each have a shot to win their first crown at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.