2008 Doubles Year in Review
Published December 09, 2008 12:00
LONDON, England - While many doubles teams had a chance to shine in 2008, just four could qualify for the Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha. And, although the Race to the Championships went down to the wire, with the final two places confirmed at Linz at the end of October, one team ultimately reigned supreme. In fact, Cara Black and Liezel Huber were so consistently successful across the season that they earned enough points to qualify for the season-ending showcase twice over.
Although they didn't lift a trophy until their fifth event of the year, at the Proximus Diamond Games in Antwerp in February, the American-Zimbabwean duo went on to capture 10 titles, a mighty haul that bettered their 2007 effort by one. But they didn't have it all their own way, especially at the Grand Slams. Indeed, their joyful celebration upon winning a fourth major and first US Open together was surely mixed with relief, having come up frustratingly short in the first three majors of the year.
In the quarters of the Australian Open the top seeds ran into Ukraine's Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko, who had finally found a way to channel their sometimes testy sibling chemistry into on-court magic - and ventured past the second round of a Grand Slam for the first time. If beating the finely-honed Black and Huber in straight sets was an achievement in itself, the Bondarenkos kept their focus against 10th-seeded Spaniards Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual in the semis. Then, in the final they came from a set down against No.12 seeds Victoria Azarenka and Shahar Peer; after 39 attempts it was also their first title in tandem, let alone on the Grand Slam stage.
Was it a fluke? Absolutely not, the Bondarenkos seemed to suggest, when they won a second title the following week at the Paris Indoors. But from then on they would prove to be intriguingly unpredictable: the sisters didn't reach another final all year, much less win another event, although semifinal finishes at Antwerp, Roland Garros and the Olympics - where they lost in the bronze medal play-off to Chinese stars Yan Zi and Zheng Jie - suggested plenty of untapped potential.
At the French Open, the Bondarenkos fell in the last four to Casey Dellacqua and Francesca Schiavone, who were duly beaten in the final by steady Medina Garrigues and Ruano Pascual. For the 26-year-old Medina Garrigues the win represented a first Grand Slam title; for Ruano Pascual, now in her mid-30s, it was the ninth, but first with a partner other than Argentina's now-retired Paola Suárez. The pair also won at Hobart and Portoroz, and secured a silver medal for Spain at the Beijing Olympics, where it took the United States' Venus and Serena Williams to stop them.
Indeed, in 2008 the Williams sisters proved yet again that nobody delivers on the big occasions like they do - regardless of recent form or practice. After losing to Yan and Zheng in the quarters at the Australian Open, and another Chinese duo, Peng Shuai and Sun Tiantian at the same stage in Bangalore, Venus and Serena didn't team up again until Wimbledon, where as the No.11 seeds they didn't drop a set on their way to a third title. In fact, in beating No.16 seeds Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur in the final, the sisters set the scene for a repeat of their 2000 trick, the Wimbledon-Olympics double.
For former co-world No.1s Raymond and Stosur, though, 2008 would prove to be a case of "so near, and yet so far." That they were able to take to the court at all was an achievement, after Stosur missed the second half of the 2007 season with the debilitating Lyme disease. But despite reaching three finals they were unable to build on the tally of 20 tournament wins registered during their dominance in 2005 and 2006. Having beaten Black and Huber in two of their three most recent encounters, Raymond and Stosur fell to their African-born rivals in the final at the US Open, and despite also reaching the final at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, narrowly missed the cut for the year-end showdown.
So, by the time they arrived at Doha in November - as the defending champions following their win in Madrid at the end of 2007 - Black and Huber had won nine Tour events, the last of them at Zürich two weeks earlier. They weren't the only team to take home multiple titles during the year, however.
First among equals was Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama, who enjoyed success at both Miami and Charleston in the spring, and beat Black and Huber in the final at Linz to secure their place at the Championships; they were, in fact, the only pair to beat the co-world No.1s twice during the year. However, despite their second seeding, Srebotnik and Sugiyama were upset in the semis at Doha by Kveta Peschke and Rennae Stubbs, who had captured their sole title of 2008 on the very same stadium at the Qatar Total Open in February. Nonetheless, Black and Huber, their victims on that occasion, would prove too strong in the final this time, relegating the Czech-Australian team to a third runner-up finish of 2008, after Eastbourne and Stuttgart.
Chinese Taipei's Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung also bagged three titles, at Pattaya City, Rome and Los Angeles, but after a first round loss at the US Open they didn't play together for the rest of the season, ending hopes of qualification for the Tour Championships.
While Black and Huber played exclusively together - the Olympics notwithstanding - several top players enjoyed success with others, aside from their regular partners. At Beijing, Medina Garrigues teamed up with Danish 18-year-old Caroline Wozniacki to win what was the young Dane's first Tour doubles title, while Srebotnik won the Kremlin Cup in Moscow with Nadia Petrova; they plan to play together more frequently in 2009. Another outfit to watch in the coming season will be Patty Schnyder and the resurgent Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who beat Peschke and Stubbs to win the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, and beat them again - as well as Srebotnik and Sugiyama - on their march to the final in Zürich the following week.