Few tennis players have been as dominant in their events this year as Demi Schuurs, but she nearly missed the WTA Finals.
Her status for the elite year-end event in Singapore was uncertain because her WTA-leading seven titles in womenâs doubles came with four partners: three with Elise Mertens, two with Ashleigh Barty, and one each with Kiki Bertens and Katarina Srebotnik.
Because players must qualify as pairs for the championships, Schuurs, ranked seventh in doubles, did not earn a berth into the finals until she and Mertens won the tournament in Wuhan, China, last month.
That was enough for the pair to secure one of the eight spots in Singapore, where both will be competing for the first time. Seeded fourth, Schuurs and Mertens will face Barty and CoCo Vandeweghe in the first round on Friday.
âIâm really happy that I can stand next to her, because sheâs a great person on and off court, and she works very hard â and of course she has great results,â Mertens, who matched Schuursâs tour-leading haul of seven titles with three in singles and four in doubles, told the WTA Insider podcast. âI hope we can do this for many years.â
Though doubles specialists are usually older, Schuurs, 25, could tell from a young age that doubles would be her strong suit. In 2011, she reached the doubles finals of all four junior Grand Slam events despite playing with four partners, winning the Australian Open and the United States Open. She won only one match in singles at those four tournaments.
Still, she played singles at the professional level for several years, never breaking the Top 500, before deciding to focus on doubles full time in 2015. Shortly after, she won her first WTA title.
âIâm lucky that I can make this decision, because most of the girls that I started to play tennis with years ago, now theyâre working or studying,â Schuurs said. âIâm lucky that I still can play tennis and do what I want to do, to travel around the world and play doubles.â
Schuurs had won only three titles through the end of 2017; little presaged her 2018 surge. Starting the year ranked 44th, Schuurs set a modest goal of finishing this season ranked inside the top 30. She reached that goal by April and continued climbing.
âI try to keep calm and not to behave arrogant or different, because itâs just a game and itâs just a sport, and you donât know whatâs going to happen,â she said. âYeah, I got a lot of trophies this year, and Iâm really proud that I have them, but a lot of players have trophies.â
One of Schuursâs most high-profile victories did not contribute to her ranking. Teaming with Lesley Kerkhove, Schuurs won a Fed Cup match for the Netherlands in February against Venus and Serena Williams in Serenaâs first official match after the birth of her daughter.
âThat was maybe one of the most beautiful wins of my career,â Schuurs said, âbecause it was two legends on the other side of the net.â
Schuurs can relate to the Williamses as a sporting family. Her younger brother, Perr, plays soccer for Ajax, the Dutch powerhouse. Her father, Lambert, has the most caps of anyone in the history of the Dutch national handball team, with 312.
âMy dad said, âWhen you were small the handball was too big to give to you, so I gave you a tennis ball,ââ Schuurs recounted, laughing.
Most comfortable at the net in an era when powerful baseline shots often dominate even doubles play, Schuurs has emerged as a reliable and versatile player, with her all-court game able to complement both powerful baseline players like Mertens and partners like Barty, who also tries to establish a presence at the net.
Schuurs cuts a distinctive figure on the court. In a sport where women routinely wear dresses and skirts, she prefers to train and compete in menâs clothing.
âWhen I talk with a brand, the first thing Iâm saying is âO.K., guys, Iâm wearing menâs clothes, and if you donât like this, I think we have a problem with that and we canât work together,ââ she said.
At Wimbledon last year, Schuurs didnât have shorts in the clubâs required white color for a practice session, and had to borrow a skirt from Mertens.
âI felt so strange on court,â Schuurs said.
At the formal championsâ dinner at Wimbledon that she attended after reaching the junior doubles final in 2011, she wore flip flops.
At Tuesdayâs draw ceremony for the WTA Finals, where other players wore ball gowns, Schuurs stood out in a dark green T-shirt and loose black trousers.
After the ceremony, Schuurs told the website Tennis.nl that she struggled to adjust to the lavish amenities for players in Singapore, which includes being taken in a Porsche to a private entrance of the opulent Marina Bay Sands hotel.
âIâve felt very uncomfortable at that moment, because Iâm not used to it,â she said. âIt doesnât suit me. Still, I try to enjoy these moments and the atmosphere, because itâs what youâve worked so hard for all year.â