Australia’s Storm Hunter clinched the year-end top ranking in doubles following the completion of the GNP Seguros WTA Finals in Cancun, but it was Germany’s Laura Siegemund & Vera Zvonareva from Russia who were crowned the champions after the pair defeated American Nicole Melichar-Martinez & Ellen Perez, another Aussie, 6-4 6-4 after an hour and 38 minutes in the final on Monday in Mexico.
Everything was tight and close.And then we got a few small opportunities to take a break. And I think we did great on those opportunities. Every single opportunity that we had, we took advantage of. Vera Zvonareva
29-year-old Hunter is the second Australian woman to end the season in the top spot in doubles after Samantha Stosur in 2006, while she is also the third overall to rise to No 1 following Rennae Stubbs.
Hunter and her partner Elise Mertens from Belgium had an exceptional week in Cancun, going 3-0 in group play en route to the semi-finals, and she wrapped up the top ranking when the current co-No 1 players Coco Gauff & Jessica Pegula from the USA failed to make the Last 4.
Having won two WTA 1000 titles this year, at Rome and Guadalajara, Hunter & Mertens also reached the Wimbledon final, which was Hunter’s first appearance in a Grand Slam final in women’s doubles.
Hunter also made two other finals this year with two different partners, in Adelaide with Katerina Siniakova and in Birmingham with Alycia Parks.
Throughout her doubles career, Hunter has played in 90 tour-level tournaments, winning 7 Hologic WTA Tour doubles titles with 6 different partners, while she has also won a Grand Slam title in mixed doubles, partnering fellow Australian John Peers to capture the 2022 US Open.
Having topped the Maya Ka’an Group in Cancun, Hunter & Mertens, the No 2 seeds were toppled by Siegemund & Zvonareva in the semis, 3-6, 6-3, [10-5].
The No 6 seeds charged through the field in Mexico to capture the GNP Seguros WTA Finals Cancun doubles title, wrapping up the week with a straight sets victory over 8th-seeded Melichar-Martinez & Perez in Monday’s final.
The prestigious title caps off an incredible second half of the season for Siegemund & Zvonareva, who have won 4 titles this year, all in the past 4 months: Washington D.C., Ningbo, Nanchang (a title they had to win in order to qualify for the WTA Finals), and now in Cancun, while they also reached this year’s US Open final.
The veteran pair, with Siegemund aged 35 and Zvonareva at 39, are two of the three oldest players to have qualified for Cancun in either doubles or singles this year, with fellow 35-year-old Shuko Aoyama is slightly older than Siegemund.
Zvonareva had previously qualified for the WTA Finals in doubles way back in 2007, as well as 5 times in singles, having been the 2008 WTA Finals singles runner-up when she lost in the final to Venus Williams, but this was Siegemund’s WTA Finals debut.
The Russian, who gave birth to daughter Evelina in 2016, is the first mother to win the doubles event at the WTA Finals since Cara Black in 2014.
As for Siegemund, she is the first German to ever win the WTA Finals doubles title. Claudia Kohde-Kilsch made five doubles finals at the WTA Finals during the 1980s, once alongside fellow German Eva Pfaff, but none of those chances were converted into titles.
Meanwhile, Melichar-Martinez & Perez ended an excellent week by reaching the final as the lowest-seeded team in the field, but they have finished 2023 with an 0-5 record in finals this year.
In the first set, both teams were superb at saving break points, so Siegemund & Zvonareva’s sole break of Perez for 2-1 proved to be decisive.
Melichar-Martinez & Perez saved the other 7 break points they faced in the set, but that was not enough as Siegemund & Zvonareva erased all 5 they stared down.
“Everything was tight and close,” Zvonareva said. “And then we got a few small opportunities to take a break. And I think we did great on those opportunities. Every single opportunity that we had, we took advantage of.”
In the second set, Siegemund cracked a backhand crosscourt winner to break Melichar-Martinez to love, again to lead 2-1, but, on the deciding point in the next game, the American fired a winning volley, earning her team’s first break of the day and levelled the set at 2-2.
In the very next game, though, back-to-back groundstroke winners by Zvonareva lined up another deciding point, and Perez ceded her serve with an untimely double-fault, putting Siegemund & Zvonareva up a break once more.
At 5-4, Zvonareva saw the first two championship points on her serve swiped away, but brilliant volleying by Siegemund made sure the third time was the charm.
“This year was probably the first year in my career where I really focused on doubles,” Zvonareva said. “Actually going all the way, qualifying here first, and then winning the whole event, it’s very special.
“I won a couple of Grand Slam titles in the past and a couple of big tournaments as well, but this is a special event.
“I don’t think I’m realising it at the moment, but when I get the chance to look back at my whole career and you, like, you can pinpoint the results that you have in your mind, this will be one of them. It’s one of the biggest achievements in my career.”
Siegemund was an accomplished singles player, but the German had seen her ranking plummet after injury and decided to transition into doubles.
“So my big goal was to become Top 10 In doubles, not necessarily this year, just in general in my career,” Siegemund said. “That was one I ticked off this year, so I was really happy about that.
“Then I did break back into the Top 100 in singles, which is an amazing achievement for me. And it was always also for my career a huge goal to make it to the WTA Finals.
“Now we are here and we won the whole thing, which was really not on the list. We were taking it easy and enjoying. I never thought we would come home with the trophy. It’s just a big cherry on the cake.”