NEW YORK, NY, USA - Russia's Ekaterina Makarova had the misfortune of drawing Serena Williams early in the singles draw, falling in straight sets - but she won't be leaving the US Open empty-handed, winning the mixed doubles title on Thursday afternoon - her first Grand Slam title of any kind.
Makarova and Brazil's Bruno Soares were unseeded in the draw but took out a slew of giants en route to the final, starting with No.2 seeds Lisa Raymond and Mike Bryan in the first round, then in the second round Kim Clijsters and the other Bryan brother, Bob - in what would be the last match of Clijsters' career.
After defeating Anastasia Rodionova and Jean-Julien Rojer in the quarterfinals and No.7 seeds Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak in the semifinals it was time to face No.4 seeds Kveta Peschke and Marcin Matkowski for the title.
Makarova and Soares had all kinds of leads in the first set, breaking early, leading 3-1 and 4-2 and - after giving the break back - holding two set points in the tie-break. They would lose the set but fought back, cruising in the second and saving two match points to win it in a match tie-break, 67(8) 61 1210.
"I was more nervous than Bruno in this match," Makarova said. "The tie-break in the first set and the tie-break in the final set, maybe I seemed good, but inside I was really nervous. Like when we were up 8-4 for sure I started to be tight."
The champions almost weren't even in the tournament to start.
"I was set to play with Gajdosova, and when Katia asked me I had to tell her I couldn't do it. She decided not to play," Soares said. "But a couple of minutes before sign-in I learned I would be out with Gajdosova, and with Katia I'd be in.
"Five minutes to go, I'm in the referee's office, and I find out Katia is practicing in the park. So my coach ran all the way over there and talked to her and called me with like 30 seconds to go and said, 'You can sign.' 11:59, I signed us in.
"I guess it worked out."
Makarova and Soares were asked about each other's strengths.
"She's very solid - she serves well, she's lefty, she's got good hands, good volleys," Soares said of Makarova. "But the one thing that really helps us in mixed is she returns very well. We managed to keep putting pressure on them even when the guy was serving. That's very important in mixed doubles."
"Volleys - it's definitely volleys," Makarova said. "I just returned and Bruno did everything else, like closes all the court. I just stood there on the baseline."
Makarova had reached one Grand Slam final before, also in mixed doubles, at the 2010 Australian Open (with the Czech Republic's Jaroslav Levinsky).