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By Erik Gudris | Monday, September 1, 2014

Armstrong Stadium

Away from the marquee singles matches, many fans found themselves entertained with doubles on the smaller show courts.

Photo Credit: AP

Labor Day Weekend at the US Open signals many things. For some, the start of the event's second week. For others, that summer is about to end. While the marquee fourth round singles matches usually get booked inside the cavernous Arthur Ashe stadium, fans with a grounds pass are unable to enter that venue and perhaps prefer not to stand hours in line in hopes they might secure a first come, first served seat on Louis Armstrong stadium, often packed to overcapacity itself.

That leaves, however, perhaps an even more entertaining option - doubles. Sprinkled around the smaller show courts of Grandstand and Court 17, doubles offers fans an opportunity to watch long time teams and singles pros partnering up together all in hopes of raising a coveted Grand Slam doubles title. Future stars and even previous champions were all found standing side by side with their partner, often just feet away from fans.

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Taylor Townsend, a future American hope, won her mixed doubles match with Donald Young over a tough Australian team John Peers and Ash Barty. Hall of Famer Martina Hingis, continuing her recent comeback, won easily with Flavia Pennetta later in the afternoon sparking talk she just find herself in yet another Grand Slam final soon enough.

What makes a good doubles team? That question, poised many times, offers up plenty of answers depending on you ask. While doubles specialists remain a constant, the perfect example being the Bryan Brothers now seeking their 100th career title, the recent trend of committed singles players joining forces, often at the last minute, often finds them in the winner's circle on the last day.

Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock are part of that growing trend. Their now impromptu fairytale run to the Wimbledon doubles title was already one of the season's best stories. Yet, the team nicknamed "PopSock" kept on winning as they entered the North American hard court season. Seeded No. 8 coming into New York, many thought they had a legitimate chance to perhaps win their second major.

That was until they arrived on Grandstand Court to face another pair of full-time singles players in Carlos Berlocq and Leonard Mayer. From first ball, it was clear Sock and Pospisil were out of sync. Either overhitting or sending easy putaway volleys into the net or wide, neither could lift their game. As Berlocq consistently ripped winning down the line passing shots out of Pospisil's reach, the Canadian took out his frustration by tapping his racquet on a nearby courtside television camera.

If synchronicity is the hallmark of a good doubles team, it also works the other way. When a solid pairing is off their groove, sometimes one player will try to lift the other. But when both are having a rough day, it usually goes downhill rather quick. So did this match that Berlocq and Mayer comfortably won 6-2, 6-2.

One player who defines the term doubles specialist is Leander Paes. The Indian veteran continues enjoying a solid career on the doubles court, including with his ongoing pairing with Radek Stepanek. The wily Czech, known as a singles player who can challenge anyone on the right day, finds himself lasting into the second week of doubles more often now.

Paes and Stepanek entered as defending US Open champions and certainly looked like possible title contenders again. But with most doubles draws, one can never really predict how it will all play out. Facing them was Spain's Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez. An unlikely yet effective doubles pairing who won the ATP Tour Finals back in 2012 and recently reached the Roland Garros final.

An enthralling battle ensued with each team trying to take control of the net. Paes and Stepanek, known for going from subtle droppers to clever angled winners, provided most of the shotmaking. Yet the Spaniards wouldn't be outdone.

Lopez, falling away from the baseline, hit a perfect crosscourt forehand winner that should make the tournament's highlight reel. But it was Granollers who took control late. Midway through the third set, Granollers ripped a return winner that went past both his opponents. Then, on break point, Granollers fired a backhand passing shot just clipping the outside of the doubles alley. With break in hand, the Spaniards soon raced away with the set closing out the 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 win.

On a crowded, hot, muggy day in Flushing Meadows, some who could found a cool and shaded spot on Grandstand under the awning provided by Armstrong Stadium. A few brave fans, perhaps wanting a little more personal space, chose to bake in the same searing sunlight as the players. No matter where they sat, each might have heard the roars of the marquee singles matches next door, but that was ok. Because all were treated to up close and personal performances by some of the best doubles players around. A perfect way to close out the long weekend as summer and the US Open both begin their inevitable final days.


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