Kristina Mladenovic: She’s Not A Doubles Specialist, But She’s Best In The World

Timea Babos, Kristina Mladenovic (photo: Corinne Dubreuil / FFT)

International Blog – Michael Dickens

This week, Kristina Mladenovic of France rose to WTA Doubles World No. 1 nearly three years after achieving a career-best ranking of No. 2. Recently, she teamed with her childhood friend, Timea Babos from Hungary, to win the French Open doubles title. It was their second Grand Slam doubles title together.

Timea Babos, Kristina Mladenovic (photo: Corinne Dubreuil / FFT)

“Each title in a Grand Slam is fabulous. I have not words to describe it,” said Mladenovic, who is fluent in five languages, after she and Babos lifted the Coupe Simonne Mathieu during the trophy ceremony on Court Philippe Chatrier at Stade Roland Garros.

Seeded second, Mladenovic and Babos defeated unseeded Duan Ying-Ying and Zheng Saisai, both from China, 6-2, 6-3. They won on their second match-point opportunity.

“Every time it’s a huge title, an adventure. The weeks of Grand Slam tournaments are extremely long, and it’s my privilege to having gone through quite a few of them already,” recalled Mladenovic in describing her latest title-winning journey.

“Obviously, it’s something that makes me very proud, and this victory is the third great triumph for me in Roland Garros.”

Mladenovic, 26, is a native of Saint Pol Sur Mer, France, who comes from an athletic family. Her mother, Dzenita, was a pro volleyball player and her father, Dragan, played handball professionally. Her brother, Luka, grew up playing football. “Kiki,” as Mladenovic is nicknamed, started playing tennis at age eight at the urging of her parents. She began coming to Roland Garros as a child.

“When I was a kid, I would come here with my parents, and I had a great emotion when I won the junior singles,” recalled Mladenovic. “Then, my first big final with the pros was mixed doubles, but we lost. And then I won with Caroline in 2016.”

Mladenovic has won the French Open doubles title on the terre battue twice. Her first came in 2016 with Caroline Garcia. When she and Babos won the 2019 Roland Garros title, it was her third Grand Slam women’s doubles title. She and Babos won the 2018 Australian Open together. Mladenovic has also won two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles with Daniel Nestor of Canada.

“Every single one is very special and memorable and lots of emotions,” suggested Mladenovic, who also teamed with Babos to win the 2018 WTA Finals. She hinted, though, there was something about winning another Grand Slam with Babos, from Sopran, Hungary, that was a little bit different. “I think this one comes on top, I would say, somehow for me, because it’s very special because you see how close we are.

“It’s my second in women’s doubles in Roland Garros, but I get to share it with Timea. I hope the whole globe knows how amazing this girl is to me.

“She’s a childhood friend. She’s my real friend. And once again, winning in Roland Garros for a French woman is incredible.”

And what does Babos think of her friend and teammate? “I’m pretty thrilled. This is what we are working hard for,” she said. “We are not necessarily doubles specialists, but it somehow turns out to be that we are really good at it, and we really complement each other well.

“We really found our way how to win this title together. I’m very, very happy about it. And that the French people know that I can speak a little bit of French.”

Mladenovic chimed in, “Highlight of the day!”

From childhood friends to doubles champions

During the press conference that followed her Roland Garros title victory, Mladenovic was asked to describe how similar and different she and Babos are, both in personality and on the court. She said, “I believe that what we have in common is sports, career, work. We are two hard workers. We are both ambitious. We have the same philosophy as concerns our relationship in a doubles match.

“It may sound shocking to you, but we never train in doubles. We want to develop and progress in our game singly. And then, when we get together, we feel it’s the best way to perform well. And we agree on almost everything.

“Our games are quite complementary on the court with the years and experience. We know the weakness of each other, and also through our successes and victories and defeats, we have learned how to manage, how to protect ourselves, how to use our strong points. This is what makes the difference for great events.

“Outside the court, we are extremely different. Whether it be for eating habits, shopping habits, we are two extremes.”

Outside the court, Mladenovic is romantically attached to Dominic Thiem of Austria, who lost the French Open men’s final to Rafael Nadal just a short time after she and Babos won the women’s doubles title. She was in her boyfriend’s box for his final and TV cameras spotted her cheering for Thiem.

“These moments are exceptional moments that I want to live to the full,” said Mladenovic of her relationship with the men’s World No. 4. They’ve been dating since 2017.

“Of course, people know I am with her and I think they really love her, so they take me into their hearts too,” Thiem said of his relationship with Mladenovic during the Paris fortnight.

Famous boyfriends aside, Mladenovic and Babos have been able to share many special moments together. They have grown from childhood friends to real friends to doubles champions.

“Grand Slam tournaments are very special,” said Mladenovic. “When you’re playing at home, it gives you more adrenaline. It’s an extra pressure. You want to do well. You have a full box with your friends and family, which is very rare. They hardly ever see you playing except on TV.

“So, it’s a great opportunity to share these emotions. It’s something incredible and unforgettable.”

In becoming the No. 1 doubles player in the world, Mladenovic is the 42nd woman to reach World No. 1 in doubles since the WTA rankings were introduced in 1975. And what does she think of the prestigious honor? “It’s difficult to describe something that will remain with me for all my life. It’s incredible,” she said.

Now that she’s climbed to the top of the doubles mountain, Mladenovic, who is currently ranked 48th in singles after reaching a career-best No. 10 two years ago, hopes to be able to improve and rise in the singles rankings, too. She said, “I want to use my experience both in doubles and singles and use the experience of the people around me to go all the way to the end of great tournaments in singles.”