MELBOURNE, January 31, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
Each time Hsieh Su-Wei and Barbora Strycova play Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic, the tactical level of their doubles is superb and so is the spirit of their competition. All four know each other very well, too.
Friday afternoon, the No. 1 seeds Hsieh and Strycova, who are the reigning Wimbledon champions, and No. 2 seeds Babos and Mladenovic, who won last year’s French Open and were appearing in their third straight Australian Open final, met on Rod Laver Arena with another major title at stake and the first of the new decade. This time, Babos and Mladenovic dropped just three games against the top seeds and won their second Australian Open title and third Grand Slam crown overall, 6-2, 6-1, in 72 minutes.
The elite pairs came in having split two previous meetings in the past seven months. Hsieh and Strycova won in the Wimbledon semifinals, then Babos and Mladenovic avenged the defeat in the WTA Finals Shenzhen title match at the end of last season. Both were decided in straight sets.
Hsieh and Strycova, who won titles last year in Dubai and Miami, began the 2020 season with a nine-match winning streak and won the title at Brisbane earlier this month. Babos and Mladenovic reached the final having won eight consecutive matches dating back to winning the 2019 WTA Finals title.
As it happened, after both teams exchanged early service breaks, from 2-2 on it was all Babos and Mladenovic. They won 10 of the final 11 games.
The Franco-Hungarian pair, who did not lose a set all tournament, lifted the trophy in Melbourne 2018 and were runners-up to Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai in 2019. Playing in Grand Slam finals is becoming a familiar feeling.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 31, 2020
“I think we’re just handling it better and better each time we go on court for such a special moment, for these special matches,” said Babos.
“We had great memories from last time we played them, that’s for sure. That was the final of the Masters in Shenzhen. We really controlled that match, played very well. Same as today. We had a plan which we really wanted to stick to.
“… I think it’s just amazing the way we’re working together and how we handled the situations together.”
After the match, Mladenovic recalled how both she and Babos lost early in the tournament in singles. However, it enabled them to focus their energy and attention on their doubles. “It’s tough because we are competitors. We wanted to do better,” she said. “It’s not always easy to kind of stick around and keep working and believing. It’s the beginning of the season, so you expect much of yourself.
“It makes it just so much easier to have your best friend by your side because you can fulfill those long days of work that a best friend or family around, I’m very grateful.”
No Top Fives in women’s final
When Sofia Kenin, a Russian-born American who is seeded 14th, meets unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain in Saturday’s women’s singles final, it will be the fourth consecutive women’s Grand Slam final without a Top Five seeded player in the mix. They’ve all fallen round by round with two of the biggest seeds going out in the semifinals.
Thursday afternoon, under scorching (100º F, 38º C) conditions on Rod Laver Arena, both Kenin and Muguruza scored upsets during their respective semifinal matches to reach the Australian Open final. Kenin, 21, beat the World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, 7-6 (5), 7-5, to reach her first Grand Slam final. Then, the Venezuelan-born Muguruza, 26, who has previously won two Grand Slam titles, pulled off the second upset of the day when she bested World No. 3 and fourth seed Simona Halep, 7-6 (8), 7-5, to reach her first Australian Open final.
After her win, Kenin, the last American standing from a field that began with Serena Williams, Coco Gauff, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, among the highest profiles, told the media: “People haven’t really paid attention much to me in the past. I had to establish myself, and I have. Of course, now I’m getting the attention. I like it, not going to lie.”
Meanwhile, the 32nd-ranked Muguruza arrived in Melbourne fighting off illness that forced her to withdraw after winning her quarterfinal match at Hobart, an Australian Open tune-up tournament. She lost the first set of her opening match 6-0. Since then, she’s beaten three Top 10 opponents – Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Halep.
Although she lost her only previous match against Kenin, last October in the second round of the China Open in Beijing, her play during the past week has reflected a remarkable improvement – and following the Australian Open, Muguruza will return to the Top 20 in the WTA Rankings.
After her victory over Halep, Muguruza did not show a lot of emotion on court or during her press conference. She exuded calm and maintained a sense of focus. Now, her mission will only be complete if she adds more Grand Slam hardware to her trophy case. As Muguruza stated after her semifinal triumph: “Definitely the mission is to get away from here with a big trophy.”
Around Melbourne Park
• In the mixed doubles semifinals, Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States and Jamie Murray from Great Britain beat Australian wild caress Astra Sharma and James-Patrick Smith, after losing to them one year ago, to reach the final. Mattek-Sands and Murray prevailed this time 6-3, 7-6 (4). They will face No. 5 seeds Barbora Krejcikova from the Czech Republic and Nikola Mektic of Croatia, who beat No. 3 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Henri Kontinen of Finland, 3-6, 6-3, 10-5.
• Women’s wheelchair doubles final: Yui Kamiji of Japan and Jordanne Whiley from Great Britain won their 10 Grand Slam title together – and third Australian Open crown – with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 1 seeds Diede de Groot and Aniek van Koot, both from the Netherlands, that lasted 90 minutes.
• Men’s wheelchair doubles final: No. 2 sees Alfre Hewett and Gordon Reid, both of Great Britain, defeated No. 1 seeds Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer, both from France, 4-6, 6-4, 10-7 in two hours, to win their first Australian Open title together.
• Junior girls’ doubles final: No. 4 seeds Alexandra Eala of the Philippines and Priska Madelyn Nugroho from Indonesia defeated Ziva Falkner from Slovenia and Matilda Mutavdzic of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-2 in 49 minutes.
• Junior boys’ doubles final: No. 5 seeds Nicholas David Ionel of Romania and Leandro Riedi from Switzerland won the title over No. 6 seeds Mikeloj Lorens from Poland and Karlis Ozolins of Latvia, 6-7 (8), 7-5, 10-4.
What they’re saying
• Ashleigh Barty on why she doesn’t watch tape of her prior matches as part of her match preparation: “I haven’t watched a match that I’ve played for a long time. I haven’t watched any that I won, I haven’t watched any that I lost. I’ve lived through it, I played it, I know what happened.”
• Roger Federer on whether he will be back to play in next year’s Australian Open: “You never know what the future holds, by especially my age, you don’t know. I’m confident. I’m happy how I’m feeling, to be honest. I got through a good, nice training block. No plans to retire. From that standpoint, we’ll see how the year goes, how everything is with the family. We’ll go from there. Of course, I hope to be back.”
What they’re tweeting
Simona Halep, a day after losing her women’s semifinal match to Garbiñe Muguruza: “This one hurt a lot, and still does, but if I have learnt anything my career, it’s that the lesions from the toughest losses can become the reason behind your biggest wins. So I will take it, and learn from it. Thank you to this beautiful country, see you net year ❤️🇦🇺
By the numbers
• Although soaring temperatures reached 109º F (42.8º C) during Friday afternoon, Day 12 attendance at Melbourne Park drew 25,279 for the extended session, setting a second Friday twilight session record. The previous record of 22,103 spectators was set in 2017.
• Despite losing in the semifinal round on Thursday, Ashleigh Barty will remain World No. 1 when the WTA Rankings are updated next Monday following the Australian Open. Meanwhile, Simona Halep will rise to No. 2 and first-time major finalist Sofia Kenin, who beat Barty, will break into the Top 10.
• When No. 14 seed Sofia Kenin and unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza, ranked 32nd, meet in Saturday women’s singles final, it will mark the first time in 10 years that there is an unseeded finalist. The last time was 2010 when Justine Henin of Belgium, who at the time was a seven-time Grand Slam champion coming back from retirement.