WASHINGTON, November 5, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
What some saw as a performance of relentless aggression, Timea Babos and Kristina “Kiki” Mladenovic viewed as opportunity to show the world that they were indeed a very formidable doubles team that knows how to win big when it counts the most.
On Sunday afternoon at the Shiseido WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, the Franco-Hungarian pair successfully defended their year-end doubles championship, becoming the first team to do so in 11 years. The reigning French Open champions beat Wimbledon titlists Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan and Barbora Strycova from the Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-3, in just 65 minutes to win the Martina Navratilova Doubles Trophy.
Babos of Hungary and Mladenovic from France went undefeated in China – winning five matches in all – and collected the largest-ever prize money check in professional doubles at $1 million. In the championship match, they beat the team that beat them in this year’s Wimbledon final – Hsieh and Strycova – and became the first back-to-back champions at the WTA Finals since Cara Black and Liezel Huber accomplished the feat in 2007-08. Babos became a triple doubles winner, having won in 2017 with Andrea Sestini Hlavackova. The last player to win three straight doubles titles was Lindsay Davenport in 1996-98 with three different partners: Mary Joe Fernandez, Jana Novotna and Natasha Zvereva.
— WTA (@WTA) November 3, 2019
“Just amazed about this week,” Babos said, quoted by the WTA Tour website. “We played some great tennis. There was no one out there in this tournament who could beat us.”
With Sunday’s victory, Babos and Mladenovic increased their WTA Finals winning streak to eight consecutive matches. Babos has now won a remarkable 11 straight over three years.
According to Mladenovic, the duo’s game plan in the championship match was to bring their big game to Hsieh and Strycova and seize each opportunity. “(To) use our big strengths that we have each in our singles game, which would be big serve, great returns, today we were very strong at the beginning of the points. There was not that many rallies out there. …The key word was ‘dominant’. The pace of our shot was consistently quite great and fast. It definitely bothered the opponents’ team.”
Babos and Mladenovic outpointed Hsieh and Strycova 54-37 and hit 17 winners between them while committing just 12 unforced errors. They won 67 percent of their service points and backed it up by garnering 52 percent of their return opportunities. It proved to be a winning combination. Meanwhile, Hsieh and Strycova finished with just 11 winners and committed 11 unforced errors.
En route to the capturing the year-end title, Babos and Mladenovic knocked off the No. 1 seeds Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka, eventual semifinalists Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Demi Schuurs, and Chan Hao-Ching and Latisha Chan during group play. Then, they took out Australian Open winners Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai in the semifinal round after coming back from a set and a break down to win 1-6, 6-4, 10-8.
Throughout their eight-day run, Babos and Mladenovic relied upon their superb reflexes and expert shotmaking skills and used them to their advantage. It served them well and along the way, it excited their audiences, too.
As Babos stepped up to the baseline with match point on her racquet and the score 6-1, 6-2, 40-0, she tossed the ball high into the air and emphatically hit a service winner to secure the year-end title. Strycova lunged to her backhand side in a desperate attempt to get her racquet on it, but the best the No. 1 doubles player in the world could do was tap a timid return that fluttered into the net. On the other side, Mladenovic briefly bent down – caught up in the thrill of victory – and covered her eyes. Then, she turned around and immediately made eye contact with Babos and quickly ran toward her doubles partner. The two shared a wonderful and heartfelt embrace, both beaming smiles that could be seen and felt around the world.
“Nothing better than to share it with Kiki!,” Babos said with the sound of an exclamation point in her voice. “Really, every tournament for me is the same when I can share it with her. It’s very amazing to be able to lift that trophy for the third time in a row. We’re both hungry to be back and to get more.”