CANCÚN, Mexico – Canadians Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe are on fire in Cancún.
And after upsetting the No. 1 team of Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula in their opening match, have put themselves in good position to qualify for the weekend even if their group is a tough one.
They face Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva today, the team that qualified on the final day of the season, and whom they defeated to win the US Open title in September.
The Cana-Kiwi pair is almost … strutting out there, in a good way. There’s a spring to their step and a growing belief in their game style. They’re doing it with a brand of doubles that has rarely been seen around the women’s tour in … well, in a long time.
It’s old-school. It’s incredibly hard to execute. And it’s working.
This is a serendipitous pairing that only came to be in Montreal in August. And as the two have quickly evolved, an impressive dynamic has developed: Routliffe’s tennis has risen to the level of her innate confidence. And Dabrowski’s confidence has risen to the premium level of her tennis.
Here’s what Dabrowski and Routliffe (who officially represents New Zealand) had to say before the tournament began.
Serve. Volley. Defence. Finish.
Routliffe, who has played with various partners with various game styles, said she has never serve-volleyed this much in her life – even if she’s always come to the net, and been pretty good at it.
Dabrowski has attacked the net most of her career. And with some partners, she did it in tandem – notably with Luisa Stefani of Brazil.
But this attack is relentless. Serve and volley. Return and volley. Premium defence. Aggressive returning.
In an era where many of the best players in the doubles rankings are primarily singles players – with the good serves and great returns that go along with that – it’s a welcome and entertaining throwback.
But it’s also very hard to execute – precisely because of those serves and returns.
So it doesn’t always work. But when it does, it is very tough to beat.
No answers from Gauff and Pegula
Their opener Sunday night was not one that would help them to ease into the event, even if with the top eighth teams in the world, there is no easing.
They faced the current No. 1 team of Gauff and Pegula, who have eased off their doubles schedule in 2023 but still qualified easily for Cancún, and for the second consecutive year at the WTA Finals.
Perhaps they didn’t have their best day. But most of that was due to Dabrowski and Routliffe, who hardly missed.
Even when Pegula and Gauff won a point, so often they had to see one, two, three potential winners come back to their side of the court.
The Americans briefly tried the lobbing route. But they didn’t stick with it for long.
If there were a few nerves closing it out, it was also a victory in straight sets that set the tone for their week.
Here they are talking about it afterwards.
Next up: Siegemund and Zvonareva
From the outside, it’s hard to fathom a more ANNOYING team to play than the veteran German/Russian combination.
Siegemund is in your face on every single point. She’s everywhere, all the time, always looking for a shot to finish at the net.
Zvonareva is the beta member of the pair, with Siegemund doing most (all?) of the talking.
Both play at a pretty slow tempo.
It was more than enough on Tuesday for them to defeat arguably the best doubles team in the world: Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, the fourth team in their group.
These two have played together since juniors. And while they’ve played less this season because of injuries to both, they are premium quality.
A caveat this week was that Krejcikova had just arrived from a two-day journey from Zhuhai, China, where she played in the “Elite Trophy” tournament. You could see on Tuesday (when she was playing basically in the middle of the night, China time) that she was struggling.
It was hard to see her eyeballs. And she was uncharacteristically tetchy on the court.
They still fought back from being way down in the second set, just on quality of tennis alone and by making Siegemund pay for her aggressive moves at the net by going down the line. But in the end, Siegemund and Zvonareva prevailed in the match tiebreak.
So this Wednesday rematch of the US Open final will pretty much guarantee the winner a spot in the semifinals.