Great article on Liezel and Cara in the NY times:
African Pair Reigns as Doubles Queens
Published: October 25, 2009
Cara Black and Liezel Huber disagree on the particulars of their first meeting on a tennis court. Black remembers clearly that Huber bedeviled her with drop shots galore; Huber is convinced it was the other way around.
But neither woman has difficulty remembering where the meeting took place. It was at an entry-level professional tournament in 1992 in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, the city where Black and her older brothers, Byron and Wayne, were raised to be unlikely tennis stars on four grass courts built by their father.
The tournament in Harare was Black’s first senior event, and she was just 13 years old. Huber, then 16, had driven to Zimbabwe with her father from their native South Africa. Both she and Black agree that Huber won their early-round singles match in three tough sets, but more portentously a connection was made — a connection that deepened into their becoming the world’s top-ranked women’s doubles team.
This week, in Doha, Qatar, they will attempt to win their third straight Tour championship, against a field that includes the Williams sisters, who are in pursuit of Black’s and Huber’s No. 1 spot.
At first glance, theirs is a partnership of opposites. Huber, 33, is 1.8 meters, or 5 feet, 11 inches, tall with a sturdy build and the outspoken personality and body language of one accustomed to taking the lead. At 1.67 meters, Black, 30, is small for a modern tennis player and is quieter and more circumspect than Huber, not wired to make waves except at the net, where her volleys are among the best in the game.
But what Black and Huber share is a common heritage, steeped in the big-sky landscapes and sociopolitical tensions of southern Africa.
“Our reasoning is very similar,” Black said. “I think I have a good understanding of her because we just come from the same background. I think it helps us on the court.”
Huber, who is married to an American tennis coach, became an American citizen last year in time to play doubles with Lindsay Davenport at the Beijing Olympics. But Black remains deeply committed to her African roots. She might be based in Wimbledon, a short walk from the All England Club; she might be married to an Australian, the trainer Brett Stephens; but Black has maintained her Zimbabwean citizenship and continues to visit often despite the country’s becoming an economic disaster area amid international concern about its leader, Robert Mugabe.
She senses incremental change for the better now: There is food in the supermarkets, gasoline and diesel at the pumps, water coming out of the taps and the end of galloping inflation.
Black’s father died of cancer in 2000, but her mother still divides her time between London and Zimbabwe. And her brother Wayne has moved back to Zimbabwe after retiring from the circuit.
“No matter what’s happened throughout the country, it’s just where we’re from, and it means so much to us,” Black said. “With my husband being Australian, most people would think I would move there and get an Australian passport, but that’s not me, and that’s not where I come from. It would just feel strange. I don’t think I could ever represent another country. That’s something that’s been deep-set in all of us, my brothers as well.”
Huber, who now lives with her husband on their 11-court tennis ranch in suburban Houston, acknowledges that Africa remains part of her identity. But she makes it clear that she has turned the page, and her parents are preparing to do the same. Huber said they had been granted residency in the United States and will be moving there in February.
“I’m so grateful for the upbringing I had and the things I saw that other people would never be able to see, and the lifestyle my parents provided for us in South Africa,” she said. “But I’m also grateful to be here in the States and for being given this opportunity and not necessarily having to worry if I stop at a traffic light that there’s danger or that somebody will break into my house. There are a lot of struggles in Africa — and I’m not being mean when I’m saying this — but I’d much rather be in the States. I think there’s a much brighter future here for my children.”
In 2005, their first year as regular partners, the pair won Wimbledon, but four days later Huber tore multiple ligaments in her left knee during a mixed doubles match in World Team Tennis.
Black, uncertain whether Huber would play again, formed a new partnership with the Australian Rennae Stubbs, with whom she stayed until 2006. Huber, who had returned more quickly from reconstructive surgery than expected, was left to flit from partner to partner.
“It was hurtful to me in a way,” Huber said. “But it’s forgotten now. We run a good business, and we’re good friends and we both have the same goals. We learned from it and it’s lucky we learned from it back then. I believe we’ll be friends forever, and hopefully we’ll win a lot more tournaments together.”
Since reuniting in 2007, they have used their complementary talents — Huber’s baseline power and Black’s deftness at the net — to win 24 tournaments, including three Grand Slam titles. But while they remain No. 1, it would be a stretch to call them the top doubles team this season. Not with the Williams sisters winning three of the four Grand Slam titles and compiling a 24-1 record. Despite playing just five doubles events, the sisters are among the four teams to qualify for the tour championships.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that Venus and Serena would have played all the Slams and some other events,” Huber said. “I think it’s great for doubles.”
It has not been nearly so great for Black’s and Huber’s bottom line. The sisters overwhelmed them, 6-1, 6-2, in the Wimbledon semifinals and then thumped them, 6-2, 6-2, in the U.S. Open final.
“Believe it or not, it is enjoyable playing them,” Huber said. “It might not look like it when we lose, 6-2, 6-2, but it is enjoyable. We all want to get better, and I hope they keep playing doubles, because that will push us to get better, too.”
Plus Liezel will be blogging from Doha the whole week.