Hungary’s Timea Babos and France’s Kristina Mladenovic hoisted the Australian Open women’s doubles trophy after defeating Russian duo Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, 6-4 6-3, on Friday in Melbourne.
Playing on the Rod Laver Arena, Babos and Mladenovic, both 24, claimed their first Grand Slam title as a partnership, denying the Olympic champions a sweep of major doubles crowns.
Of course it's an incredible feeling to share this moment together on court. We really enjoy playing together. We improved overall I think every single match, Timea Babos
The win was Mladenovic’s second major women’s doubles title after she won the 2016 French Open crown with compatriot Caroline Garcia, and her first as a team with Babos.
The pair, who reached the final at Wimbledon last year, were seeded fifth in Melbourne and it took them 80 minutes to dispatch the second seeds.
‘It’s a very amazing tournament for me with lots of memories,’ said Mladenovic.
Mladenovic and Babos overcame eighth seeds Hsieh Su-wei and China Peng Shuai in the semi-finals, after beating No 1 pair Latisha Chan and Andrea Sestini Hlavackova in the last eight.
The victory saw Babos win her first Grand Slam in her third appearance in a final, faving featured in doubles in 2014 and mixed in 2015 at Wimbledon, while it was Mladenovic’s fourth major triumph following her success at Roland Garros and mixed doubles wins at Wimbledon in 2013 and here in Melbourne in 2014.
Makarova and Vesnina were shooting for their first Australian Open title which would have landed them a career Golden Slam, having won the French (2013), Wimbledon (2014), US (2017) and Olympics (2016).
All four players are also accomplished singles players, although Mladenovic, mired in a five-month, 15-match losing streak, would hardly feel that way currently.
The match that unfolded was a singles/doubles hybrid, with the women often rallying from the back of the court but also venturing forward in a more traditional approach to the tandem game.
It appeared early on that the experience of the Russians, who have played regularly together for five years, would win out.
Trailing 40-0 in the fifth game, they worked their way back to deuce before Vesnina played a biting inside-out sliced forehand approach shot to draw an error and hand the duo a break for a 3-2 lead.
Yet from 2-4 down, Babos and Mladenovic rallied back.
Increasingly vocal in both grunt and celebration, they stormed through four straight games, the last capped with a stabbed forehand volley winner by Mladenovic, to take the opening set.
Momentum swings persisted in the second, with Makarova and Vesnina breaking in the opening game, only to drop the next three games, before breaking back again.
At 3-3, the Russians trailed 40-15 but levelled at deuce, after Vesnina belted a return that forced a volley error from the fifth seeds.
They kept threatening to break, extending the game to deuce three times, but couldn’t derail Babos and Mladenovic.
Losing that game seemed to take the wind out of their sails, and Babos and Mladenovic, sensing the finish line, drove hard.
Babos played a winning lob on the first point of the eighth game before Mladenovic hooked a heavy forehand crosscourt for a winner and 0-40.
before sealing victory in one hour and 20 minutes.
“Of course it’s an incredible feeling to share this moment together on court. We really enjoy playing together. We improved overall I think every single match,” Babos said.
“Our spirit and our friendship together, it really helped through the week because … we didn’t start actually that well.
“In the beginning [of the tournament] we had some tough moments, some tough matches with playing not the level what we gave today. This was the key, to stay positive and help each other on court, and voila.”
A delighted Mladenovic added: “At the end of the day, like we all say, as a tennis player, you remember the winner. You don’t really mind who you played in the Grand Slam final or how you played it.
“Of course, it makes it more special [against Makarova and Vesnina]. They’re an amazing team together, one of the most consistent over the years.
“It makes it even nicer. Not because it’s against them and we have something against them. Of course no. It’s just something special to see that these girls are going for records and nice career.
“We are just very proud and of course enjoying this special moment.”