Prime Pairing

Posted on April 23, 2020

Doubles specialist Nicole Melichar pumps up Aviators squad with top-tier talent

There’s a new face stepping up for the Aviators this season, and she’s a current Top 20 player and Grand Slam mixed doubles winner. What Nicole Melichar is not, however, is a stranger to World TeamTennis. She made her WTT debut in 2010, subbing in with the St. Louis Aces at just 16, before she officially became a touring pro. More recently, she played the last two seasons with the Washington Kastles as her tour doubles ranking skyrocketed with impressive performances on both the women’s and mixed doubles court, including her maiden mixed doubles Slam at Wimbledon in 2018.

“I think I’m most excited about the team environment,” says Melichar of her move to the Aviators. “I grew up with Ryan Harrison at John Newcombe Academy back when I was a kid, so I’ve known him for years. He’s sort of like a brother to me.” Her relationship with another teammate, Christina McHale, dates far back to when both were juniors. And, it’s not just those on court that she’s looking forward to teaming up with, but the team’s leadership as well. “I think our coach John Lloyd has done a tremendous job with the team in past years, and just knowing his tennis history, you know you’re in good hands,” she says.

Her Aviators connections don’t stop with the current team. Melichar says that in recent years, she trained with former Aviators women’s doubles specialist Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who announced her retirement last December. “She said wonderful things about the team, so just getting her feedback was also very nice,” she says.

The 26-year-old American shifted her emphasis to doubles early in her career, once the grind of the ITF tour helped her to identify her strength and how she could truly thrive on tour. “I didn’t have any sponsors, I didn’t have enough money to travel with a coach, so I was basically on my own with the help of my parents,” she explains.

“Traveling to these ITF tournaments… you have to pay for everything, whereas if you get into a WTA tournament, you’re guaranteed at least a couple of nights at the tournament hotel as long as you’re in the tournament,” she continues. “You’re getting meals on-site and maybe breakfast at the hotel. At a certain point, because I could get into WTA events on my doubles ranking, I was making more money because of the prize money but also saving money because I was getting some nights free at the hotel and I was getting some meals paid for as well by the tournament. It just financially made more sense to play doubles at the WTA events than play singles at the ITF events.”

It turned out to be a smart career choice for more reasons than simple finance. In 2017, she played with her first consistent partner, the U.K.’s Anna Smith, and grew through their partnership and shared coaching. “And then the following year, I ended up partnering with Kveta Peschke, who I had played with in 2018 and 2019. I think the combination of her experience and just how unbelievable of a player she is, plus me working with her husband, Torsten, who was our coach — I feel like he helped me really find myself, my game, and helped me skyrocket and really make that big jump — I think it was a combination of having a world-class coach and a world-class partner next to me.” To put her leap in rankings terms, Melichar sliced her 2016 year-end ranking of World No. 88 in half to close out 2017 at No. 39, and then again in 2018, when she ended the year at No. 20, and she’s showing no sign of turning back.

“Once I entered the top 20, I’ve stayed in the top 20,” says the current World No. 19. “I reached a career high of No. 12, but I really feel the improvements that I’ve made weren’t temporary. I feel like the things that [Torsten Peschke] taught me have stuck, and I think I’ll continue to improve. I’m still working with him, and my next goal is Top 10, and someday No. 1, so I really think that if I keep progressing, I can do it.”

That fearless determination is surely a factor in her mixed matches, which seem to bring out Melichar’s best. “I think I love the challenge of when a guy hits a ball really hard at me,” she says. “I’m not afraid. I want the guy to try and hit me, try and hit it through me, and I think if a guy hits a really good shot at a girl and she ends up getting it back, he will either get frustrated and maybe try and do too much, or he’ll start to respect the girl and not necessarily try and play through her or play around her, which also makes it more difficult.”

“It’s so much fun,” she continues. “I have been so lucky to have partners that are just so much fun to play with, and I feel that my partners have treated me as an equal on the team. Sometimes I feel like mixed doubles teams, maybe the guy feels like he needs to do too much, because men and women obviously have different skills, different strength levels, but I feel like my partners have done a good job of complimenting me and using my strengths and using their strengths, so I think I’ve been fortunate with that.”

While she waits to for her tennis life to resume, Melichar is making the most of her time at home, doing everything from cooking and baking to watching Netflix and meditation as she also takes classes online toward a bachelor’s degree in communication. And, she’s not backing off her fitness routine. Access to private tennis courts means she’s still squeezing actual practice in, though she says she’s “diversified a bit,” adding biking, rollerblading, yoga, running, and pilates to her home gym regimen. “I feel like there’s a lot that people can do at home,” says Melichar, who admits that normally, near constant tournament travel means time at home is a rarity. “I understand that some people are maybe sad that they can’t go out, but I personally don’t understand the boredom thing because I’m like, ‘There’s so much to do!’”