Anyone playing both singles and doubles at the US Open will tell you that the two are not only different events, but are almost like entirely different sports. In doubles which is the closest equivalent to a team sport in tennis, camaraderie between partners can be just as important as competitive instinct. Barbara Zahlavova Strycova and Kimiko Date-Krumm are two players who began the US Open making waves with their singles and are looking to end the fortnight as women’s doubles champions.
While the singles tournament has seen a coterie of underdogs break through, this unseeded pair have been the giant-killing duo in the doubles event. To make their first-ever US Open semifinal, the Czech veteran and the ageless Japanese wonder took out three big-time teams, including French Open champions and No. 2 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei of Chinese Taipei and Peng Shuai of China and the No. 8 seeded team which featured 2013 women’s and mixed doubles winner, Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic. Speaking after their landmark win, it was clear that their chemistry has been key to their success.
“I finished with my previous partner, and the first who came into my mind was Kimiko because she had already asked me last year,” Zahlavova Strycova said. “I always wanted to play with her so at the beginning – well actually not at the beginning, the middle of the year, before Paris – we said we would play together.”
From there, the two went back and forth, whispering and giggling as neither could remember exactly when their partnership began. Finally, the two settled on Indian Wells, a tournament that saw them upset the No. 6 seeds in their first match as a team.
Zahlavova Strycova explained that she and Date-Krumm immediately clicked and complemented one another technically and emotionally. The team’s unison was on full display during their win over Hlavackova and partner Zheng Jie of China on Wednesday.
“I feel like we understand each other. We know what the other one wants and it’s no drama on court," said Zahlavova Strycova. "Today in the second set I was a little bit down and she was there for me. She’s playing great. I have the volleys, she has the strokes from the back. We are the team, and it’s working.”
Between points and during changeovers, Zahlavova Strycova and Date-Krumm can be seen chatting and laughing, displaying a striking relaxed attitude compared to their more tense opponents.
“We laugh about tennis, because some points are funny, or long, or crazy. It’s fun to play together,” said Zahlavova Strycova.
For her part, Date-Krumm was incredulous at their accomplishment.
“I’m 43 now, almost 44 this month!” she said during her on-court interview.
Playing at the US Open for the 15th time in her multi-generational career, Date-Krumm was already gearing up to prepare for a semifinal encounter with No. 4 seeds and conquerors of the Williams sisters, Russians Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova on Thursday.
“I need to focus on the next round because it’s going to be more tough than today," said Date-Krumm. "I have a massage at 5:30 and then eating, sleeping, take bath and many things to do. I need to talk with my coach and [Barbora and I] need to talk. Already we have big success, but not enough! So we need to be focused tomorrow.”
Zahlavova Strycova is 15 years Date-Krumm’s junior, and takes the court inspired to be by her partner's side.
“Obviously, it’s great to be at this age like this, playing and being fit like this," said Zahlavova Strycova. "Sometimes, I’m asking myself, ‘I’m tired,’ and if I look at her, she is going, energy, and I’m like, ‘No, you can’t not be tired!’ She’s an inspiring person for a lot of people; I’m getting messages like, ‘Your partner is so fit, I have to go run!’ I just got one today, and I was really laughing. She’s great. She has to really love the sport to keep playing.”
For the 28-year-old Zahlavova Strycova, who took No. 7 seed Eugenie Bouchard of Canada to three sets in singles on Saturday, every match is a blessing. The Czech was forced off the tour for six months last year after inadvertently ingesting a banned substance found in a diet supplement. Returning last fall, she has had a career year, reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and is now two matches from a Grand Slam title.
“Every match that I win and go through, it’s great for me.," said Zahlavova Strycova. "I appreciate that I can be here again and I can be on the level where I am at, because it was a rough time, I have to say. To be able to come back in one year like this, I think is really good. I like to work, I like to get better like a player and I will work on this and we will see how it goes.”
Even off the court Zahlavova Strycova is looking after her partner. As Date-Krumm met the Japanese press, she insisted the media let Date-Krumm begin recovering for Thursday’s 11 a.m. start as soon as possible.
"Make it fast for her, okay!"