APRIL 22 - MAY 5, 2024

Strycova/Hsieh comeback halted by Fernandez/Townsend in quarters

Former Madrid doubles champions Barbora Strycova and Hsieh Su-Wei will no doubt be pleased with how their long-awaited return to the WTA circuit has gone, despite their quarter-final defeat to Leylah Fernandez and Taylor Townsend at the Caja Magica on Wednesday.

Coming off lengthy breaks from the tour, Strycova and Hsieh defeated two established doubles teams in the Chan sisters and Miyu Kato and Aldila Sutjiadi in their opening two rounds in the Spanish capital before losing 6-0, 7-6(3) in an entertaining clash against Fernandez and Townsend.

The 37-year-old Hsieh, a former doubles No.1 and former top-30 singles player from Chinese Taipei, spent 18 months on the sidelines to rest her body and recover from a long-standing injury after two decades of high-level competition.

“When I came back I felt fresh and young like when you just start the tour,” Hsieh told WTA Insider earlier in the tournament. “When I was 16, I was playing non-stop so I never felt so fresh. There’s a lot of young girls coming. I need to check them out. When I came on the tour I was 14 or 15 years old. Now I’m one of the oldest on the tour.”

The 37-year-old Strycova, who won the Wimbledon doubles title alongside Hsieh in 2019, spent 26 months away from the WTA circuit, during which she became a mother to her first child Vincent.

A former doubles No.1 and singles No.16, Strycova plans on retiring at the US Open, and explains how she decided to come back for a mini farewell tour before closing the chapter on her professional career.

“I had in the back of my head that I would like to come back and retire on my terms,” Strycova told wtatennis.com.

“I needed to close this chapter on my terms. I felt it like I had to do it, and I needed it still. That’s why I came back to play some tournaments, just the ones I like.”

Fernandez and Townsend, finalists together in Miami a few weeks ago, bagged the opening set in 22 minutes.

Their veteran opponents finally got on the board, courtesy of a service hold from Hsieh to start the second frame and they carved out a 3-1 gap.

Hsieh and Strycova’s lead was erased though as Fernandez and Townsend struck back and the Canadian/American pair had the upper hand in the tiebreak to punch their ticket to the final four.

“So far so good. We’re happy to be playing here in Madrid and getting the results that we wanted. We’re just going to keep enjoying and hopefully go all the way,” said the 20-year-old Fernandez, who was a US Open singles finalist in 2021.

Townsend, a doubles runner-up at the US Open last year, added: “It’s really nice to have a consistent partner that you play with. Every tournament that we played we’ve gotten better, I think we are really gelling well and having a great time on court.”

Their reward is a semi-final showdown with first-time pairing Victoria Azarenka and Beatriz Haddad Maia, who claimed a 7-6(0), 7-5 win over Paula Badosa and Bethanie Mattek-Sands earlier on Estadio Arantxa Sanchez.

Mattek-Sands and Badosa saved two match points and broke Haddad Maia as she was serving for the victory to level the second set for 5-all.

The Brazilian redeemed herself immediately however by breaking Mattek-Sands’ serve, her aggressive return earning her and Azarenka a 6-5 advantage.

On the team’s second opportunity to serve out the win, Azarenka sealed the deal with a strong delivery to secure their spot in the semi-finals.

The duo combined to hit 29 winners against just 20 unforced errors in their one-hour 46-minute victory.