Last year was special for Nicole Melichar-Martinez: she cracked the Top 10 doubles ranking, got married, and graduated from university. After working hard during the off-season, the American has big plans for 2022, which she’s starting with new doubles partnership, teamed up with Alexa Guarachi. Even though the Australian Open is just about to begin, the WTA doubles world No.14 found time to answer our questions in this exclusive interview.
Last year you won two WTA doubles titles and you finished the season with the semifinals in Guadalajara, all with Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands. Now you have a new doubles partner, Alexa Guarachi of Chile. Can you tell us something about that transition?
Alexa and I agreed to partner up for this year just before Guadalajara. After Demi and I decided to split, I wanted someone again that is doubles focused and in their game I wanted them to have a big serve. When I look at Alexa and I, I feel we have all the spaces on the court covered. We both have good serves and returns. I love my forehand and her the backhand. I think we have weapons to set each other up at the net. The positive attitude from both sides is very powerful and I really hope that great attitude helps us to communicate well and find success! We both have the same goals and motivation, so I think we can do really well together!
I hear you put in a lot of work during the off-season. Which aspects of your tennis and form did you focus on? What are your goals for 2022?
My husband Carlos was my coach during my preseason. We worked a lot on my fitness, both on the court and in the gym. Really helping me to get stronger yet quicker and also try and be well balanced for injury prevention. We also worked a lot with my serve and return. My serve is my weapon and I want to really feel I can hit it where I want and how I want, because girls nowadays return so well I felt I needed to put in more time on it. And returns are the second most important, especially in doubles. If you can start the point well, your chances of winning the point go up.
How are you handling traveling and playing tournaments in these corona times? In one of your earlier interviews you mentioned that all the tests, quarantines and other COVID prevention measures were super annoying. How is the situation now on Tour? Have you managed to adapt?
It is still very annoying. But it’s interesting how the perspective changes. At first everyone was afraid to get COVID because the sickness was very severe. Now it seems the virus has weakened, so no one is afraid to get sick, but instead we are afraid to test positive because then we are stuck in quarantine and cannot play the tournament. With players being asymptomatic, you never know how a result will show up even when you’re feeling good. Also, the rules change often in different countries, so it created stress before you travel because you don’t know how it will be until maybe a day before you fly. All the forms, apps, QR codes, it’s all a lot to keep up with.
Since about 2014 you’ve been a doubles specialist. Explain to our readers how your mononucleosis contributed to your leaving singles and focusing on doubles?
After recovering from mono, it took me a long time to fully recover and gain my endurance back. It was much easier to play doubles, because I was able to be fit for the whole match, instead of just a set or set and a half in singles. And after mono, it’s not like you can just build up your endurance, it doesn’t work like that. You don’t know how long the virus takes over your body. That was the difficult part. So I had to accept that even though I was working hard, my body didn’t want to cooperate at the pace that I wanted it to. So doubles was my best solution, and at the same time I realized it’s what I was very good at. So in the end it may have been a blessing in disguise.
You consider doubles tennis more dynamic, more versatile and entertaining. Why is it that singles tennis gets significantly more media coverage?
Singles is more popular because it has more media coverage and people know the big singles names. In order for it to change, you need to invest and put doubles matches on TV in prime time and get people engaged, get people to learn who the teams are. Everyone loves a team sport and everyone loves doubles. However, if you don’t invest, it won’t become big, because the players play a huge role in who watches. How will people know a name if they aren’t put in front of people? Put doubles in prime time at 7 p.m. on center court and you will start building SO many fans.
Besides having a successful 2021 in your career, during which you reached a career-high doubles ranking of No.9, the year was also special in your private life, as you got married. When did you get married? How did the wedding go? How did you meet your husband? Can you tell us something more? Has marriage changed anything about your tennis plans?
Yes, I did get married! My husband’s name is Carlos Martinez. We got married July 16th, after Wimbledon and before Tokyo. It was funny, we practiced that morning playing some fun doubles and went to the courthouse in the afternoon. We did a small ceremony at the courthouse just with five people. We want to do a big one eventually but will take our time with planning and make sure COVID isn’t giving us any restrictions. I don’t even know where we would do it! Florida? Colombia? (That’s where he’s from)
Carlos and I met several years ago in Clubmed in Florida. I was training there at the time and he was in college but was also a tennis coach and had brought some students to practice there. He wanted to practice too and they put him to hit with me that week. But it wasn’t until years later that we got together. COVID and quarantine is what truly brought us together because then all of a sudden we were stuck living together for three months. Long story short, we had a great time and I guess when you know you know!
Marriage has not changed any of my tennis plans. I am just as motivated as ever to compete and climb as high as I can. My main goal is to win a doubles Grand Slam and Carlos fully supports me and is helping me to reach that goal!
You are the leading representative of Neptune Athletics on the WTA Tour. The quality and resistance of their materials is top-notch. Since you have been involved in the design process of their tennis clothes, what are some inputs that you gave that you think are making a difference?
I feel I have given Neptune honest feedback so they have been able to really get good quality items. My favorite are the skirts… the material and cut are just perfect and because they look so classy I feel anyone can wear them. The most compliments I’ve gotten are the colors that they use, they’re very appealing to the eye and stick out when you play without being overkill.
Editor’s note: Here you can see Nicole’s 2022 Australian Open outfit.
Over a year ago you mentioned that Neptune was working on spreading into the tennis shoes market. How is that going?
The shoes are still a work in progress. But I will say that I did advise Neptune to broaden into Pickelball! It’s America’s fastest growing sport and one of my good friends Patrick Smith is 5 in the world in doubles in pickelball and he wears Neptune too! I really think pushing them into that market was a smart move and it will help the brand grow!
Last year you earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Indiana University East. Have you had a chance to apply your knowledge and diploma?
I got my bachelors degree in communications. I feel I apply it every day! Just being open and honest with my doubles partner and coach, or my husband. A lot of the time it’s not what you say but how you say it. Also being able to communicate and discuss things with people of different cultures, backgrounds, religions, I feel you have to be aware of who you’re talking to when you make an opinion or ask a question.
Nicole and Alexa are seeded fifth at the 2022 Australian Open. Their first-round opponents will be wildcards Peangtarn Plipuech of Thailand and Aldila Sutjiadi of Indonesia.