Before teaming up last autumn, Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Demi Schuurs proved they could win with anyone. Schuurs had reached WTA finals with eight different partners, and Melichar-Martinez with seven, including two Grand Slam runner-up showings.
But after serving apprenticeships of sorts with more experienced players, Melichar-Martinez with Xu Yifan and Schuurs with Kveta Peschke, the American-Dutch pair felt it was time to team up with a peer and commit to a long-term partnership.
That decision has paid off in a season that has garnered Schuurs her third straight WTA Finals appearance (previously competing in 2018 with Elise Mertens and in 2019 with Anna-Lena Groenefeld), and Melichar-Martinez her second (previously competing in 2018 with Peschke).
First quarter: Establishing themselves at the top
Melichar-Martinez and Schuurs started the season brightly, scoring back-to-back semifinals at the Yarra Valley Classic and the Australian Open - the latter of which was Schuurs' deepest run at a Grand Slam. In both tournaments, it took the eventual champions to stop them - Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara at the Yarra Valley Classic, and then Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka at the Australian Open.
Road to WTA Finals, singles
- Sabalenka reaches new heights in 2021
- From Roland Garros champ to Top 10, the rise of Krejcikova
- Pliskova secures fifth straight spot in year-end championships
- A history-making season for Greece's Maria Sakkari
Road to WTA Finals, doubles
- Krejcikova and Siniakova enjoy 2021 renaissance
- Aoyama and Shibahara hit their stride
- Hsieh and Mertens gel after tough start
- Commitment pays off for Melichar-Martinez and Schuurs
Moving on to the Middle East, the pair won their first WTA 500 title together, in Doha, coming through a match tiebreak against Monica Niculescu and Jelena Ostapenko in the final. They backed that up with a WTA 1000 quarterfinal in Dubai the following week.
Clay and grass: Success on natural surfaces
There was no slowing Melichar-Martinez and Schuurs as the tour moved to clay. They started with another WTA 500 title in Charleston, dropping just one set along the way. Afterward, Schuurs declared her intention for this partnership to be a multi-year investment, having previously limited her doubles collaborations to one year.
Champions Corner: Melichar-Martinez, Schuurs forging a partnership to last
A third-round showing at Roland Garros was followed by back-to-back WTA 500 finals in Berlin and Eastbourne on grass, falling only to Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka in the former, and Aoyama and Shibahara again in the latter.
The last two Grand Slams of the season were disappointing for Melichar-Martinez and Schuurs, who fell in the first round of both Wimbledon (to Niculescu and Andreea Mitu) and the US Open (to Anastasia and Arina Rodionova). But a semifinal showing at the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic put the pair on the upswing again.