NEW YORK, NY, USA - No.3 seeds Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova began and ended Day 10 at the US Open on Arthur Ashe Stadium, wrapping up a rain delayed three-setter with the surging Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yi-Fan, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, to book an all-Czech semifinal.
“We didn’t think we’d play there but we warmed up on Ashe this morning,” WTA Doubles No.1 Safarova said during her post-match press conference. “We thought, ‘why not the center court?’”
After splitting the first two sets on Grandstand, the quartet retreated under the roof to become the first doubles match of the tournament to conclude on the sport’s biggest stage.
“It’s always special and the court is beautiful. We’re so fortunate to have the roof because the weather hasn’t been looking great for today and even for the weekend. It’s always a pleasure to play there. It’s so much bigger than any other court, so there’s a different feel to it.”
For Strycova, it was long awaited revenge against Dabrowski and Xu, who beat her and then-partner Sania Mirza to win the Miami Open, and were riding a seven-match winning streak after taking home a second title at the Connecticut Open presented by United Technologies.
“That match wasn’t my match. I didn’t play well and didn’t feel good, so I knew that I just had to play…a little bit better,” she said before bursting out into laughter with childhood friend Safarova. “We knew we had to play good tennis, and in the third set, we had to really step it up.”
The deciding set was a high-quality affair, with each team hitting half of their total winners with the match on the line. Safarova and Strycova got the crucial service break from the big-hitting Dabrowski and dropped just one point in the final two games.
“The other team played really well, and on the center court were crossing a lot,” Safarova said. “At that point, it was getting close, so in the middle of the third set we knew we had to step up or we’d lose the match. We played aggressively with a lot of down the lines, and went for our shots. That was the key to win.”
Safarova was guaranteed to retain the No.1 ranking after reaching the quarterfinals and Olympic champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina fell in the third round but will have to make it past compatriots and No.7 seeds Lucie Hradecka and Katerina Siniakova if she aims to reach a third major final in 2017.
“It’s never easy to play friends, and we obviously all know each other super well. It’s the semifinals of a Grand Slam and we all want to be in the final, so we’ll fight hard to win.”
Siniakova and Hradecka, who won two major titles with Andrea Hlavackova, made their second Grand Slam semifinal on Tuesday after beating No.14 seeds Andreja Klepac and María José Martínez Sánchez, 7-6(2), 6-3.
“They beat the No.1 seeds here,” Siniakova told WTA Insider after the win. “So we just came to the court, wanting to try from the beginning to be offensive and active, and really just to try and play our game.”
The fire-and-ice pairing formed at the start of 2017 and began to build momentum at the BNP Paribas Open, where they reached the final, and later made the semifinals at Roland Garros.
“Probably at the beginning, things weren’t so good. We needed to learn about each other and how we play on the court. It was maybe a little bit different for her because she started to play on the forehand side, as well.
“Now, I think it’s working really well. She’s really nice, really kind. Sometimes we’re helping each other, like when the other is not playing so well, we try to cheer each other up and stay in the match.
"I think it’s going really better because she’s calm, and sometimes I’m really getting angry and she’s able to help me. I think that’s really good, on and off the court.”
Both Czech sets enjoy strong bonds, with Safarova and Strycova enjoying a much-needed day off in Bryant Park ahead of their quarterfinal clash.
“We did some shopping yesterday, because we wanted to forget about tennis a little and spent the whole day together,” Strycova said. “It was very nice to go to Bryant Park. We were sitting there thinking about how we were in the middle of the city, and yet it’s so quiet. It was relaxing, and Lucie showed me a new coffee place.”
“We had #coffeewithLucie,” the always on-brand Safarova noted.
Siniakova, who was born in Hradeck Kralove with strong Russian roots, has enjoyed an impressive rise in both singles and doubles - winning two titles in 2017. The youngest of her remaining countrywomen at 21, she held out hope for an all-Czech semifinal, one that would be extra special at a tournament where both World No.1s hailed from their country.
“It’s a little bit about the Czech Republic, but it also depends on the players. Our players are all working hard and trying to play really good, and I think they’re all doing really well. It’s nice that I, too, can represent such a country.”