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Fourth seeds Liezel Huber (St. Louis Aces' star, far right) and Lisa Raymond (Philadelphia Freedoms' star, second from right) outlasted defending US Open women’s doubles champions Vania King (Sacramento Capitals' star, far left) and Yaroslava Shvedova, edging the No. 3 seeds 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) in a dramatic two-hour-and-47-minute final to win their first major title together. King and Shvedova were within three points of victory on three occasions but were unable to close the door. "We really relied on our experience today and sticking together," said Raymond. "Even when we were down when they were serving for the match. Just grinded it out, and now we're sitting here as US Open champions." 

Huber was pleased that their strategy paid off. "I think it's nice for us to win today knowing that our game plan works. Many times we get beat by girls that hit very big," she said.

King and Shvedova broke Raymond’s serve the third game of the first set after Shvedova split the Americans with a backhand return down the middle for a winner. However, Huber and Raymond broke right back to even the match at 2-2. The combination of low returns, precise lobs and quick reflexes enabled the defending champions to break Raymond’s serve again in the seventh game as Shvedova closed the game with a backhand-down-the-line-lob winner. King subsequently consolidated the break of serve with a winning forehand lob to put the No. 3 seeds ahead 5-3, a tactic that worked well for the 22-year-old. Huber held at love to give the Americans a chance to break Shvedova’s serve, but the big-serving Kazakhstani denied Huber and Raymond any chance of getting back in the set, firing four powerful serves to take the one-set lead in 37 minutes.

Huber and Raymond changed their strategy to start the second set, opting to have Raymond serve first. It almost backfired as the two faced an early break point before holding to lead 1-0. After Shvedova squared the set at 1-1 with a confident service game, the two teams were in the middle of a lengthy game on Huber’s serve when rain interrupted play. King and Shvedova had break point, and once play resumed, the two converted when Huber pushed a forehand volley long.

Six straight service holds put the championship on Shvedova’s racquet, but the Americans kept their composure. Shvedova was unable to handle a deep backhand slice return from Raymond, evening the set at 5-5. King and Shvedova opened a 15-40 lead on Huber’s serve and had a great chance to break in their second opportunity. Huber though, blocked a Shvedova overhead, and she and Raymond won the point when Shvedova netted a forehand volley. The No. 4 seeds won the next two points to take a 6-5 lead.

King held to send the set into a tiebreak, but the Americans quickly opened a 3-0 advantage. King and Shvedova won both of Raymond’s service points to put the breaker back on serve. Falling behind 2-4, the third seeds won three straight points to take a 5-4 lead after Raymond missed a forehand volley wide. With the match again on Shvedova’s serve, the Kazakhstani was unable to handle the pressure, double-faulting to make it 5-5. the Americans dictated play on the next point to earn set point, and Huber clinched the 71-minute set with a well-placed serve.

It seemed the momentum was on the side of the fourth seeds, as they broke King to begin the final set. Shvedova regrouped in the next game, striking the ball cleanly to snatch the break advantage, but then fell behind 0-40 on her serve. She maintained her composure, saving all three break points and then hitting two winners to put her and King up 2-1.

The encounter remained dead even and it was only fitting that the title match would be decided by a final set tiebreaker. Just as they did in the second set break, the Americans were solid from the beginning, moving ahead 4-0. Down 4-1, King and Shvedova won the most exciting rally of the clash, after King hit a backhand-volley winner on the 20th shot of the point. But the two-time major champions were unable to get any closer, and Huber and Raymond claimed the hard-fought victory on their second match point.

The No. 3 seeds won one more point than their opponents, but Huber and Raymond were the superior team in the difficult moments. King and Shvedova were bidding to become the first women’s doubles team to win back-to-back trophies at Flushing Meadows since Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez pulled off the feat in 2003 and 2004.

By winning the title, Raymond claimed her third US Open women’s doubles crown, having partnered with Rennae Stubbs in 2001 and Samantha Stosur in 2005 to title wins. Huber triumphed for the second time, after hoisting the trophy in 2008 with Cara Black. Joining forces at Charleston this year, Huber and Raymond won their second title of the season; they won the Olympus US Open Series event in Toronto in August.

Sunday’s victory avenged a quarterfinal defeat to King and Shvedova in Cincinnati. It was double payback for Huber, who finished runner-up with Nadia Petrova last year to King and Shvedova after blowing a match point in the 2010 championship at Flushing Meadows. When the new WTA doubles rankings are published Monday, Huber will overtake Kveta Pescke and Katarina Srebotnik as world No. 1. "I'm speechless, really," Huber said after finding out. "I think that ranking definitely doesn't define you as a person.

"My goal has been to play with Lisa and reach success with Lisa," said Huber. "So I think that goal is achieved to some extent, and we're gonna keep working hard through the rest of the year. I think the ranking is sweet. It's nice. But this US Open title is much bigger for me today than the ranking."

King and Shvedova were aiming to win their fourth team title. They captured titles at Wimbledon and the US Open last year and in Cincinnati this season.
Photos: Camerawork USA

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