No.4 seeds Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Demi Schuurs booked their place in the semifinals of the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, finishing Group Tenochtitlán in second place with a 6-4, 3-6, [10-2] defeat of No.7 seeds Darija Jurak and Andreja Klepac in one hour and 20 minutes.
The last round-robin match was a straight shootout for the semifinals after both teams had lost to No.2 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, who were already assured of winning the group, and beaten No.5 seeds Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai.
Stosur and Zhang were already eliminated, but managed to get a win on the board by defeating Aoyama and Shibahara 4-6, 6-3, [10-7] in the earlier dead rubber.
Melichar-Martinez and Schuurs raced out of the blocks, winning a series of athletic, scrambling points to break Jurak in the first game and leaping out to a 5-1 lead. Such was their sharpness that Schuurs even pulled off an accidental trick shot, apparently airing a volley but reacting swiftly enough to pull off a no-look forehand winner anyway.
Jurak and Klepac made the American-Dutch pair work hard to close out the set, winning three straight games and saving five set points before a relieved Schuurs put a smash away on the sixth. Making it competitive after getting dominated early on paid dividends for the Croatian-Slovenian duo, though. With Klepac in particular raising her game, they broke Melichar-Martinez twice in the second set to level proceedings.
However, a nervy deciding tiebreak saw Melichar-Martinez and Schuurs resume their dominance, dropping only two points to seal victory. The result puts Schuurs into her second WTA Finals semifinal, having made the last four in 2019 alongside Anna-Lena Groenefeld, and Melichar-Martinez into her first.
"I honestly felt like I was playing Squid Game," laughed Melichar-Martinez afterwards, referring to the hit South Korean TV show.
"It's a coin toss," said Schuurs about the deciding tiebreak. "We went to the toilet, we spoke with each other, and we said: OK, just let it go. Go for it. These are the only points we have to play now. We have to win two more points than our opponents and we have to get the crowd behind us."
Earlier, Stosur and Zhang reprised the result of their Round of 16 duel against Aoyama and Shibahara at the US Open. The Australian-Chinese duo had won that 7-5, 7-5 en route to their second major title, and here they overcame a slow start to dominate the remainder of the match to finish their season on a winning note.
"After today's match, we wish the tournament was just starting. We got off to a bit of a slow start, so unfortunately we are finished now," said Stosur.
"But to finish the year with a win together is fantastic. I thought we both played really well today."