Soares conquers COVID-19, then Queens, to win US Open with Pavic

Soares conquers COVID-19, then Queens, to win US Open with Pavic

Bruno Soares and Mate Pavic had each won major hardware before, but on Thursday, they triumphed together on the Grand Slam stage for the first time after defeating Nikola Mektic and Wesley Koolhof, 7-5, 6-3.

When Bruno Soares walked off Court 14 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 24, he and partner Mate Pavic had lost their long-awaited reunion in a demoralizing match tiebreaker. Team chemistry would understandably take time to rekindle for some tandems, but Soares was out of sync for more complex reasons.

Keeping it to himself at the time, Soares was in the initial stages of recovering from the coronavirus. He had just passed his self-isolation of 14 days before arriving to New York with a negative test to compete in the Western & Southern Open, the first of two bubble events staged in Queens. The Brazilian's two weeks inside however, left him unprepared, and at times, hindered his breathing during their loss to Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo

“I had a blocked nose one day when I was back in Belo, and I was feeling a little bit weak, decided to get tested. I was getting tested anyways twice a week the month before coming here,” Soares told press on Thursday. “I tested positive, isolated myself 14, 15 days, [had] no symptoms. So just basically [waited] for a negative test to come. Got lucky. Got it right after 14 days. The one thing that was tough is 14 days without doing anything and then you just come straight here.”

Approaching the week ahead of the US Open with an open mind, Soares and Pavic put in the work on the practice court. Having joined forces last June, the right-lefty duo combined to win the Shanghai Rolex Masters, but struggled to put together a run on the Grand Slam stage, going 4-3 in their first three appearances. It was a bit of a mystery, for both were established major champions in both men’s doubles and mixed doubles.

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That all changed throughout their fortnight in the Big Apple. In a tournament that saw the draw and seeds slashed in half, Pavic and Soares dangerously floated unseeded—and ultimately met every challenge that came their way. After rallying in three sets to win their first two rounds over 2019 finalists Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos and longtime friends Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow, the two emerged as the first major champions since the tours reopened by defeating Nikola Mektic and Wesley Koolhof, 7-5, 6-3, in Thursday’s final.

“The opponents were serving for the match second round. So we got back from all of those situations, building up confidence throughout the matches, playing better and better,” said Pavic. “Now we are here with the title, so we are extremely happy. Another Grand Slam title, and we are now looking forward already to Europe, next tournaments.”

The two won’t have much time to revel in their success, as the shortened, shifted European clay-court season begins Monday in Rome. Players flying in will continue with pre-tournament testing and initial isolation protocols, before getting a chance to step on the red dirt. If Soares’ faith in their strength as a team, after their tough luck at the Slams and the personal adversity he needed to come by is anything to go by, these two will be more than prepared for the abrupt transition in surfaces, and scenery.

“I always believed in the team. You could see like the matches that we were connecting and playing well. We know they can be continuing on,” he said. “I think this is the only thing. It's the feeling you've gotta have. You have to believe that if you're playing well you can win any tournament, can beat any team.”

The victory marked Soares' third men's doubles major title, adding to 2016 triumphs with Jamie Murray at the Australian Open and US Open. Pavic, who has now contested men's doubles finals at all four Slams, celebrated his first since the 2018 Australian Open with Oliver Marach. 

The women's doubles final will take place Friday at noon ET, with third seeds Nicole Melichar and Yifan Xu set to face Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva. Mixed doubles was scrapped from event plans in June.