NEW YORK, NY, USA -- Another match went down to the wire at the 2020 US Open, and it was No.3 seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Xu Yifan of China who emerged victorious in a thriller to reach the women's doubles final after edging the all-American pairing of Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(7).
On Wednesday afternoon in Louis Armstrong Stadium, Melichar and Xu had to save one match point in the final-set tiebreak, then notched the final three points of the classic from there to claim the win after two hours and eight minutes of scintillating play.
"I think it sounds like we have more work to do!" Melichar laughed, during the on-court interview after the clash. "No, it sounds amazing. Before the match, I told my coach I was prepared for a 7-6 in the third battle. Obviously I’m thrilled we won 7-6 in the third; you always wish that it’s easier, but we fought our hearts out."
"Asia and Taylor played a great match," Melichar continued. "We’ve known each other for so many years, played against each other so many times."
Very little separated the two teams in the tilt, as each squad fired 46 winners on the day. Muhammad and Townsend broke serve six times, compared to five service breaks for Melichar and Xu, but it was the American-Chinese tandem who advanced nevertheless with bold play at the end of the decisive breaker.
"I’m so proud of Nikki and I, we’ve really worked very hard every day," said Xu, after the pair reached their second final in the last three weeks at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. They were runners-up at the Western & Southern Open, which took place at the same site in Flushing Meadows two weeks ago.
Melichar and Xu are now both a sole match-victory away from the first Grand Slam women's doubles title for each of them. Xu was a women's doubles runner-up at 2019 Wimbledon, while Melichar was the runner-up at 2018 Wimbledon. Melichar does have a Grand Slam mixed doubles title on her resume, winning that event alongside Alexander Peya at that same 2018 Wimbledon.
The third seeds will face the unseeded pairing of Laura Siegemund of Germany and Vera Zvonareva of Russia in the final. Playing their first tournament together, Siegemund and Zvonareva beat No.7 seeds Victoria Azarenka and Sofia Kenin in the second round, No.2 seeds and defending champions Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals, and Anna Blinkova and Veronika Kudermetova in the semifinals.
Siegemund and Zvonareva both have major-winning experience. Zvonareva is a two-time women's doubles champion (including the 2006 US Open title alongside Nathalie Dechy) and a two-time mixed doubles champion at Grand Slam level. Siegemund is the 2016 US Open mixed doubles champion (with Mate Pavic).
On Wednesday, Melichar and Xu claimed the first break of the match, taking the serve of Muhammad to post an early 2-0 lead. However, the unseeded pair showed they would be in it for the long haul, as they won a five-deuce game to break back right away, clinching the fourth break point of that tussle after a lob by Xu flew long.
The third seeds, though, took their chance at 5-4, after two superlative returns by Xu pulled them to double set point. On their first set point of the game, big hitting by Melichar in the forecourt, ending with a thunderous putaway, gave them the break and the one-set advantage.
The unseeded pairing struck back with a fairly dominant second set. At 1-1, Muhammad converted her team’s third break point of that game with a return winner to move ahead 2-1. They would eventually go up a double-break lead, as a Townsend volley winner let the two Americans break Xu for the second straight time and go up 5-2.
Muhammad ceded one break back on her serve, but she and Townsend were unfazed, as they quickly stormed to 0-40 and triple set point in the very next game. A double fault by Melichar on the first set point gave Muhammad and Townsend the quick break, and the match was all square.
In the topsy-turvy deciding set, the incredible volleying skills of Townsend led to a break of the Melichar serve and a 4-2 lead. However, their lead was short-lived, as a missed overhead by Townsend set up a break point for the No.3 seeds, which was converted by an error-forcing return by Xu.
It then became Melichar and Xu in the driver’s seat, as they took control in the forecourt to grit through a break of Muhammad’s serve and lead 6-5. With Xu serving for the match, though, Muhammad and Townsend charged forward and used power and accuracy to claim an outrageous break at love and queue up an ultimate tiebreak for all the marbles.
Like the match as a whole, very little separated the pairs in the breaker, but a Xu volley winner gave her team a 6-5 advantage and the first match point. Townsend saved it with a volley winner of her own, tying up the breaker at 6-6. She and Muhammad then reached their own match point, after an error-forcing Muhammad volley put them up 7-6.
Xu, though, hit one of the finest shots of the match, a divine angled forehand crosscourt for a winner, to save the match point and reach 7-7. A Melichar volley on the next point set up match point number two for the No.3 seeds, and they converted that one, as a sturdy return by Xu forced an error from Muhammad to send them into the final.