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Matos and Stefani: Brazilians on the brink of history

  • Ravi Ubha

Brazilian tennis might first evoke memories of Maria Bueno and Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten.

Bueno won seven Grand Slam singles titles and 11 in women’s doubles, even all four in 1960, and was once described by the late, great tennis journalist Bud Collins as "incomparably balletic and flamboyant".

Bueno died in 2018, 21 years after Kuerten first made his mark in Paris with his clay-court genius — not to mention shaggy hair, thick headband and striking blue and yellow kit. 

Tennis in the soccer mad South American nation with a population of over 200 million hasn’t hit those lofty heights since, although hasn’t been completely dormant. 

The likes of Fernando Meligeni, Teliana Pereira and Thomaz Bellucci were all titles winners in singles with stints inside the top 50. 

Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo triumphed in doubles Grand Slams, not with each other, and Andre Sa tallied 11 doubles titles.

Beatriz Haddad Maia has now become a serious threat in singles, grabbing her first two titles in 2022 back-to-back and even topping world No. 1 Iga Swiatek last August in Canada.

It figures to be only a matter of time before the left-hander from Sao Paulo makes a serious dent at a major.

Much sooner than that though, a first all-Brazilian crown in a Grand Slam doubles tournament could come in the AO mixed final this weekend courtesy of unseeded duo Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos.

Soares, who retired last September, has taken note of the duo’s stint. 

DRAW: Australian Open 2023 mixed doubles

“I think the significance of an all-Brazilian team to win a mixed Grand Slam title would be huge,” Soares, the mixed and men’s doubles champion in 2016 at Melbourne Park, told

“Some of us have done it with non Brazilian partners but I think there’s a very, very special meaning of winning a Grand Slam with a full 100 per cent Brazilian team. 

“We’ve been having a lot of success in doubles over the past two decades. It’s very nice to see the new generation representing us at the highest level and playing some incredible tennis.”

Luisa Stefani (L) and Rafael Matos in action during their AO 2023 mixed doubles semifinal victory over Australians Olivia Gadecki and Marc Polmans.

Stefani stroked a backhand return winner down the line to clinch the tight semifinal Wednesday, when Brazilian flags could be seen at Rod Laver Arena.

Most, however, supported the home side of Marc Polmans and Olivia Gadecki. 

“I think the last 10-15 minutes were so tight,” Stefani said on court. “I think I had to be so intense the whole match.”

Stefani and Matos saved a match point in the match tie-break, ultimately prevailing 4-6 6-4 (11-9). 

Polmans’ return at a comfortable height allowed Stefani at the net to hit the key volley on the match point averted at 8-9. Still, the return came with ample pace.  

“This final tiebreak was a bit nervous but we keep our thoughts calm to know what to do, and in the end we did it,” said Matos, who achieved a career-high of No.27 in November in a season where he won five titles. 

Down a set and staring at a break point at 1-2 in the second, Stefani’s gutsy, deep second serve sealed a hold to kickstart the comeback. 

Stefani has already created history for Brazilian tennis, partnering with Laura Pigossi to win the nation’s first tennis medal at the Olympics in steamy Tokyo two years ago.

It had even more drama than Wednesday as the pair — a last-minute entry into the draw — saved four straight match points to claim bronze over Elena Vesnina and Veronika Kudermetova. 

That high predated heartbreak for the former collegian at Pepperdine University in California. 

Playing in the women’s doubles semifinals at the US Open with good pal Gabriela Dabrowski, Stefani badly injured her knee against Coco Gauff and Caty McNally. The 25-year-old was sidelined for almost exactly 12 months. 

In her first tournament back last September, Stefani and the Canadian won the title in Chennai.

Stefani and Matos in hand, the Brazilian team embarked on the United Cup in late December. 

Rafael Matos (R) and Luisa Stefani, undefeated in six matches in 2023, celebrate one of those victories for Team Brazil at the United Cup in Brisbane. (Getty Images)

Having never played together previously, they went unbeaten in the inaugural team event and keep on winning. 

For the title, they must beat Indian duo Sania Mirza — the former doubles No. 1 appearing in her final Grand Slam — and Rohan Bopanna. Both are Grand Slam winners.

RELATED: Mixed doubles final run "so emotional" for Mirza

Haddad Maia nearly left Melbourne last year with the women’s doubles trophy, falling short with Anna Danilina in the finale against the dynamic Czech duo of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova.

Despite winning a mixed Grand Slam title with Mirza, Soares’ allegiance understandably lies with his compatriots. 

“It would be a very, very special day (if they win) and this is something that turns around a lot of good stuff back in Brazil,” said Soares.

“They make people believe, they make people fall in love with the sport, they make people watch. It’s going to be a very, very special day. We’re all here cheering and supporting them.

"It’s going to be a big day for us Brazilians.”