Florin Mergea, a former ATP no.7, and Rio Olympics silver medalist, is well-known to all doubles aficionados. A late-bloomer, the Romanian retired back in 2010 due to lack of singles success, but decided to come back and focus on doubles a few months later. He’s found the most success in partnerships with Rohan Bopanna and his compatriot Horia Tecau. However, the last two seasons have been tough for Mergea. He couldn’t find a long-term partner and had to take a six-month break. However, since July, Florin has been playing with another veteran, Andre Begemann.
Begemann/Mergea are playing their eighth ATP Challenger tournament together at the Pekao Szczecin Open in Poland and have already captured titles in Sopot, Meerbusch, Como. The German is a year older than his partner and won four ATP doubles titles in his career. They are both among the most successful players in the history of the ATP Challenger Tour. Mergea is seeking his 18th title at this level, while for Begemann it would be his 24th crown.
Mergea hasn’t forgotten how to play doubles
Although they have been unseeded in most Challenger draws, the difference in class is visible at first sight. Begemann has a very potent first serve and great anticipation skills at the net. Mergea plays with way less power but his shot-making abilities, lobs, touch volleys are still world-class. Playing elite competitions for so many years, the most important patterns of play become almost robotic. However, both Mergea and Begemann have the ability to think quickly and come up with amazing improvised shots when under pressure.
The pair have already tasted success in Poland at the Sopot Open, as mentioned above. There the Romanian was playing through an injury prevented him from serving at his regular speeds. Instead, he sliced all his serves and could only reach around 160 km/h (100 mph). Nevertheless, they managed to dispatch home favorites Karol Drzewiecki and Mateusz Kowalczyk after coming back from 2-6 down in the match tiebreak. Mergea’s serve was easily exposed but his one-handed backhand return was absolutely on fire that day.
Back in Szczecin, they’re regarded as one of the favorites for the title. The level of most doubles pairings on the Challenger Tour is so close to each other that the matches usually go nip and tuck. Begemann and Mergea fought through a tough three-setter over Facundo Arguello and Roberto Carballes Baena in the first round, before winning a blockbuster clash of the doubles quarterfinals by defeating 2015 Australian Open doubles champion Simone Bolelli, partnering with Andrea Pellegrino 7-6, 7-5.
The chemistry between the two is a pleasure to watch. Begemann and Mergea play doubles as the game should be played – with a very positive attitude. Today at the Pekao Szczecin Open, their semifinal opponents will be second seeds Guido Andreozzi and Andreas Molteni. And if they keep playing at this level, we might just see the German and the Romanian back on the ATP Tour sooner rather than later.
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