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Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands Qualify for Singapore

Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands booked their ticket to the WTA Finals in Singapore after clinching the women’s doubles title at Wuhan Open in China.

The Czech-American combination, seeded fifth, put up a dominating show to topple their third-seeded opponents Sania Mirza and Barbora Strycova 6-1 6-4 in the title-clash.

“It’s the year-end championships, the best of the best. Only the best teams get to go, so I think it’s an honor to make it there in the end,” Mattek-Sands was quoted by WTA Tennis.

Safarova and Mattek Sands have now been undefeated in their last 11 matches, with the streak commencing from their US Open triumph last month.

They have become the fourth pair to make the cut to the year-ending Championships, which entails only the best eight pairs of the season.

The other three to have qualified are Kristina Mladenovic/Caroline Garcia, Sania Mirza/Martina Hingis, and Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina.

The tournament is scheduled to be held from October 23-30.

 

 

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BETHANIE MATTEK-SANDS AND LUCIE SAFAROVA REACH WOMEN’S DOUBLES FINAL

Pair beat Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-2, 7-6 in US Open semi
American and Czech take just 27 minutes to win first set
Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, seeded 12th, defeated the fifth seeds on a hot, draining afternoon.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, seeded 12th, defeated the fifth seeds on a hot, draining afternoon. Photograph: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

Bethanie Mattek-Sands will fly the flag for the hosts in the final of the women’s doubles on Sunday after teaming up with her Czech friend Lucie Safarova to beat the fifth-seeded Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in two contrasting sets on the new Grandstand court on a hot, draining afternoon of the US Open.

Day 11 of the tournament had an oddly low-key feel about it, as organisers opened the gates to allow free admission – a move that followed the new format of doing away with the daft old Super Saturday, a log-jam specifically created for television and a result of the late start to the tournament. That pleased the host broadcasters but not the players.

As it is, Mattek-Sands and Safarova, seeded 12, have two days to rest, although it was only in the second set that they were properly stretched.

They took an hour and 24 minutes to win 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) and might have got the job done earlier but for a rousing Russian fightback.

The flamboyant American and her less extravagant Czech team-mate took only 27 minutes over the first set, forcing a slew of six errors from their opponents in the final game.

The mistakes kept coming in the second as another women’s match at the business end of the tournament looked like descending into a one-sided no-contest. Already fans have been served up a couple of substandard matches in the singles. Doubles, the preserve of entertainment for the hardcore, is not supposed to be so one-sided.

The Russian duo gave up five break opportunities in the early exchanges of the second set, saving all but one, and grabbing one of their own. Makarova and Vesnina then decided to make a fight of it and, in the time it took them to surrender the first set, they had stemmed the flow and were on serve mid-set, after coming back from the brink at 0-4.

Not many who had witnessed the embarrassing first set would have bet good money on this match lasting even an hour, but it had turned into a decent match in that time.

The Russians held for five-all to stay in the fight and battled to a tie-break. They had three match points against them, after an hour and 23 minutes, and saved one but not the next one on serve. They had at least played their part in saving the match from being a farce.

Mattek-Sands, who went out in straight sets to Johanna Konta in the first round of singles, is a busy player. In her four doubles matches since then, she and Safarova have given up just 23 games to reach the semi-finals.

She and Safarova looked good in the quarters, beating her compatriots Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend 6-1, 6-2, but will want to guard against another second-set lapse in focus if they are to lift the title.

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PHOENIX’S BETHANIE MATTEK-SANDS ON VERGE OF FIRST OLYMPICS

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a nine-year Phoenix resident, is virtually assured of a U.S. tennis berth at the Rio Olympics by virtue of her No. 9 world doubles ranking at the deadline for direct Olympic acceptance. Video: Jeff Metcalfe/azcentral sports Wochit

31-year-old is ranked No. 9 in the world in doubles

The U.S. Tennis Association won’t make it official until after July 4, but Bethanie Mattek-Sands already is among the American tennis nominees for the Rio Olympics.

Because of her No. 9 world ranking in women’s doubles through a June 6 deadline for direct Olympic acceptance, Mattek-Sands, who has lived in metro Phoenix for nine years, is virtually assured of playing in her first Olympics at age 31. She was in Olympic contention in 2008 and 2012 only for injuries and competition to intervene. Now two years after a second hip surgery, she is perhaps playing the best tennis of her career.

“I’m just in a better place right now,” Mattek-Sands said during a training stop at home before leaving for Wimbledon. “I think I’ve really evolved as a player and an athlete and honed in on what the best plans are for me” in training, nutrition and recovery. “It’s a accumulation of everything. It’s really been a progression. I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”

MORE: Rio Olympics coverage from azcentral sports and USA TODAY Sports

Mattek-Sands will be one of the few  tennis Olympian with Arizona ties since the sport rejoined the Olympic program in 1988. Sargis Sargsian, who played at Arizona State in 1994-95, represented Armenia at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics. Victoria Azarenka, who trained in Scottsdale when she was a teen, won two medals at the 2012 Olympics,

For Mattek-Sands, who embraces the state even during the summer heat, representing it and the U.S. at an Olympics trumps even her 2015 Grand Slam doubles titles at the Australian and French opens.

“There’s so many things about Phoenix that I love coming home to,” Mattek-Sands said. “I’ve traveled around the world, been a lot of places and I don’t see myself moving anywhere else. I feel like I’m in workout clothes all day anyway so I don’t mind sweating. The nights here in the summer are amazing to me. I’ve bragged to all my friends on the tour about coming and visiting me. I feel like I fit in Phoenix. I love it here.”

Mattek-Sands has won seven WTA double titles since 2015, five with Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic, also her partner for Wimbledon, where play begins Monday. An abdominal strain followed by bacterial infection sidelined Safarova from the 2015 U.S. Open through early 2016 so Mattek-Sands teamed with Coco Vandeweghe to win at Indian Wells, Calif., in March, perhaps a prelude to Rio.

JOIN US: A night of stories from Olympians and the journalists who cover them

“They ask me who I want to play with,” said Mattek-Sands, also 2-0 with Vandeweghe in Federation Cup matches. “It’s hard to choose sometimes, but Coco and I have had the best record and experience playing together and chemistry. I think that’s going to be the choice, but nothing is set in stone so I’ll wait and see.”

It’s also likely that Mattek-Sands will play in Olympic mixed doubles with Mike Bryan (her 2015 French Open title partner) or Bob Bryan; the other Bryan twin probably teaming with Serena Williams. The Williams sisters, both ranked in the singles top 10, likely will play singles and doubles in Rio with Venus going to her fifth Olympics and Serena to her fourth.

“Everyone I’ve talked to that has played the Olympics said it’s really one of those memorable moments of their career so I’m really looking forward to it,” Mattek-Sands said. “I think it’s more special because it’s not every year. Even less people get the chance to go. What really brings it home is the emotional side of playing for your country.”

Growing up in Neenah, Wis., Mattek-Sands remembers watching Olympic gymnastics including Kerri Strug in 1996.

“Gymnastics was actually the first sport I started with,” she said. “It’s probably better I didn’t get involved because I’m not very flexible. It’s really inspiring and with the coverage now you get a chance to see all these athletes and how they’ve managed to get to the top level in sports I’ve never even tried.”

With major U.S. Olympic Trials still to come in gymnastics, swimming and track, the number of athletes, coaches and staff with Arizona ties in Rio is expected to surpass 50, covering at least 12 sports.

Eighteen-time swim gold medalist Michael Phelps, who trains at Arizona State, is looking to qualify for his fifth Olympics. Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi and U.S. men’s volleyball player Reid Priddy, who went to Mountain Pointe High School, will be playing in their fourth.