Make mine a double

For Nicole Melichar, doubles is as much about collegiality as it is about strategy.

We tend to think of tennis as an individual sport, with players relying on their inner strength as well their skills and talents as they battle all by their lonesome on one side of the court.

Except in doubles. There they can rely on their partners — which has its advantages and challenges.

Nicole Melichar knows all about both. The Czech-born American is currently ranked 20 in doubles, though she did reach a career-high ranking of 12 a year ago. In 2018, she saw career highlights at Wimbledon when she and Austria’s Alexander Peya won the mixed-doubles title, defeating Jamie Murray, former doubles world No. 1, and Victoria Azarenka, former singles world No. 1. That same Wimbledon, Melichar and Czech Květa Peschke made the finals, where they lost to fellow Czechs Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková.

Melichar has now split with Peschke and is teaming with China’s Yifan “Julie” Xu, No. 8 in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings of doubles players.

“You look for good chemistry, good complementarity,” Melichar says. “For example, I have a very good serve. So you pick a person who is a good volleyer and good at the net.”

Melichar has also played singles, with less success. (She’s ranked No. 921 there.) She sees a clear distinction between both disciplines.

“Doubles is a more technical and tactical game. The points are going to be shorter so you have to be more accurate with your shots.

“Singles is a more physical game,” she adds, with more territory to cover. There are those who think that they are temperamentally different, with singles better suited to self-reliant players and doubles to more collegial ones. And indeed, while there have been great singles/doubles players — Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe come to mind — many great single players are lackluster doubles players. Part of that has to do with practice and preparation.

“You can’t just step on a court and expect to be a doubles player,” Melichar says.

Just as singles and doubles differ, doubles differs from mixed doubles, she adds. “Most men have big serves and quick reactions, so any time they have a chance to put the ball away, you’re going to give it to them.”

Growing up in Florida, to which her family immigrated when she was a baby, Melichar just wanted to play and emulate her sister, Jane, five years older. The kid sister did that and more. Today, her sister is an avocational player while Melichar is looking to crack the top 10, make the Olympic team and win more Slams. She’d also like to cultivate her friendship with Xu.

“For me, it’s good to be friends, go to dinner occasionally, have lunch, go sightseeing. Some doubles teams like to keep it to business on court. But it’s good to have a friend, especially after a tough match.”

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