Sharon Fichman and Giuliana Olmos' fairytale run to their biggest career title at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia was, literally, never supposed to happen. When the doubles draw was released last Sunday, their names were nowhere to be found.
"We were obviously one out," Olmos told reporters after the duo saved two championship points to defeat Kristina Mladenovic and Marketa Vondrousova, 4-6, 7-5, 10-5 to win Rome. "We weren't even in the tournament. I had a feeling someone would withdraw. Someone always withdraws."
That someone turned out to be World No.1 Ashleigh Barty, who was set to play with Jennifer Brady. Olmos and Fichman rode their good fortune all the way to the title, defeating a tough draw that included top seeds Hsieh/Mertens and the red-hot Japanese duo Aoyama/Shibahara, who lead the tour in titles this season.
"Honestly, looking back at the draw, I felt like every match was like a final, like every match was just so tough, which I think makes this win even more special for us," Olmos said.
"We had a tough time the last couple of weeks. [Sharon] was coming back from an injury.
"I think this one is extra special for me just because a few weeks ago I was really burnt out. I didn't really want to be playing tennis. I have been traveling a lot. The bubbles were getting to me. I took a few days off and I was able to bounce back."
Fichman and Olmos spoke with WTA Insider after the final to discuss their different roads to Rome. For Fichman, a shoulder injury sustained at the Australian Open not only sidelined her but also left her stranded from home, unable to return to Canada. For Olmos, her non-stop schedule left her mentally exhausted after Stuttgart.
Their keys to success? Floridian friends, faith in each other, and, of course, gelato.
WTA Insider: Gugu, you said in your press conference that you were burnt out a few weeks ago. Can you expand on that? Why did you find yourself in that position and what did you do to pull out of it?
Olmos: I was on the road for five weeks through Miami. I went home for six days, and then I had to leave for London. Thank goodness I'm going home tomorrow, but originally I thought I was going to be in Europe for three months.
So the six days I was home, I was just running errands. I didn't even practice that week, to be quite honest. I did no tennis and I thought that would keep me fresh and it didn't just because I had so many errands, so many appointments and things to do. I never really had time to relax.
I went to Fed Cup, played there, and then the next week I played in Stuttgart and I lost and I knew I was in a bad place because after I lost. I was really mad, but I wasn't mad because I lost. I was just mad because I was tired.
I didn't want to be there. I just didn't want to play tennis. It wasn't fun for me, I wasn't enjoying it and I actually felt that way when I was here in Rome last year. What I did last year was I took four days off. I didn't play at all. I just toured Rome and I showed up really well at the next tournament.
So this year I was like, I know where I'm at and I'm not going to wait until it gets too bad. So after we lost in Stuttgart, I took off. I told Sharon, I'll see you next Tuesday in Madrid. I took five days off. No tennis, no fitness. I just ate my heart out. I was eating my way through Madrid. I had a great time.
WTA Insider: This is amazing championship-winning advice.
Olmos: It's not more tennis! Sometimes it's less tennis.
Fichman: My reaction when she told me she needed some time was, 'Great.' I fully support her. She knows exactly what she needs. She's a grown up. She's been playing tennis a long time. I also have been around a while and I know that sometimes just taking a break is all you need because none of us are going to forget how to play tennis in five days. To be honest, I could take a page out of her book a little bit more, and I've been doing that.
So when she said that, I was like, that's perfect. I'll see you in Madrid. And it ended up being exactly what both of us needed. Gugu always shows up. She always does. I trust her and I support her. And sometimes it ends up being a really funny story.
Olmos: It was really good. I took five days off and played Madrid. We had a good first round (d. Kichenok/Niculescu, 6-4, 6-0), tough second round (l. Xu/Zhang, 6-4, 6-3).
But we learned a lot from that loss. I think that loss is why we did so well this week. We just learned a lot of things that we could do better and things we could add and implement into our game and I think we did that well this week.
And I'm thriving. So less is more.
WTA Insider: It's the Jamon Iberico.
Olmos: Actually it's the gelato. I had 14 scoops this week (laughs).
WTA Insider: What was different when you both reunited in Madrid?
Olmos: After we lost in Madrid, I just wasn't really happy with how I played. I was really fired up again to practice, and I love practice. That's how I knew I was back to normal. I trained really hard the next two or three days. Once we got to Rome, we started practicing.
I think we were also really loose because we weren't even in the tournament. I knew we would get in eventually. There's always one team that pulls out or something. So I think we were just really loose we were like, oh, let's just see what happens. Obviously we play to win every time. But yeah, we just had a lot of fun.
For me, the key is always to have a lot of fun. When I'm on court, sometimes I take it too seriously or I stress myself out too much. I'm also getting better at knowing when that point is. Today after we lost the first set, I was like, Sharon, I need to start smiling more. I don't know, it just helps me play better and looser.
I reminded myself that it was a privilege to be there today, just to enjoy the atmosphere. Being in a final and having some fans, that definitely helped me loosen up and play better.
Fichman: We definitely play our best when we're having fun. When it gets a little too serious, either I make her laugh or she tries to make me laugh and it works out pretty good. Usually it's something super sarcastic, but it changes depending on the situation. Today Gugu told me to tell her a joke and I couldn't think of anything.
WTA Insider: Sharon, you've just won the biggest title of your career in your third tournament back from injury. When did you start to feel the problems in your shoulder and how tough was it to get back on tour?
Fichman: The shoulder injury sort of started at the Australian Open and then it gradually progressed into a Grade 3 shoulder tear after a handful of weeks. When I got imaging we saw the severity of it. In the grand scheme of things, considering the injury, I'm really proud of how quickly I was able to come back, because usually something like that takes about 12 weeks.
It was really challenging, of course, and not easy to be off court for so long, especially after having such a great run at the Autralian Open. I was really pumped to keep playing. So that was definitely challenging.
But the adversity and the challenge of having to overcome all that taught me some lessons and made me really extra motivated and excited to be back out there. So I'm grateful for the adversity and the lessons that I learned through that for sure.
WTA Insider: How tough was the rehabilitation process? You said in your press conference that you weren't able to fly home after Australia.
Fichman: My fiance and I, we're Canadian, we're based out of Toronto. Canada is in a very hard lockdown and you need to do a government quarantine that costs around $2,000 and you have to quarantine for two weeks. At the moment where we live, they've closed tennis courts and all outdoor activities. It's really, really strict. People can't go outside for anything that's non-essential.
So there's really nothing for us to come back home to in that sense. Gyms are closed, clinics are closed, tennis clubs are closed. And also to quarantine and then pay $2,000 for two weeks in the middle of the season is really a tough ask to do. So that wasn't really an option for us.
My best friend was with me in Australia and she had a friend that had a place in St. Petersburg, Florida. I knew people in the area to train with and we just sort of went there because that was our option. From there I met some incredible people and all of a sudden I had a training base, I had a place to do physio, I had gyms to work out at, and I had such a great setup.
I think that was just the universe really throwing me some luck because we just went there on a whim and it all worked out incredibly well.
WTA Insider: What does winning the Rome title mean to you?
Fichman: It means so much. It just sort of solidifies what Gugu and I believe in. We've been progressively improving as a team and we're having a lot of fun out there. And to be honest, it just gives us more motivation to get back out there and keep going.
WTA Insider: How do you plan to celebrate the title?
Fichman: Well, the curfew finishes in about 45 minutes. So we're going to run out and try and get some pizza and gelato.