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Shenzhen | Babos & Mladenovic defend their doubles title

Shenzhen | Babos & Mladenovic defend their doubles title

Defending champions Timea Babos & Kristina Mladenovic successfully claimed the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen doubles title for the second year in a row when they defeated No 2 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei & Barbora Strycova, 6-1 6-3, in a flawless 1 hour, 5-minute performance to lift the Martina Navratilova Trophy.

Just amazed about this week. We played some great tennis. There was no one out there in this tournament who could beat us Timea Babos

“The game plan, like the whole week, was bringing our big game,” assessed Mladenovic of the match.

“[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 added: “Just amazed about this week. We played some great tennis. There was no one out there in this tournament who could beat us.”

The Franco-Hungarian duo, who went undefeated all week and will thus collect the largest prize money check ever in professional doubles tennis at $1 million, avenged their Wimbledon semi-final defeat to Hsieh & Strycova to become the first back-to-back champions at the year-end finale since Cara Black & Liezel Huber in 2007-08.

Babos, who also took the trophy in 2017 partnering Andrea Sestini Hlavackova, also becomes the first player to win a hat-trick of WTA Finals doubles titles since Lindsay Davenport in 1996-98 alongside Mary Joe Fernandez, Jana Novotna and Natasha Zvereva.

“Nothing better than to share it with Kiki!” exclaimed Babos. “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.”

In Saturday’s semi-final against No 7 seeds Samantha Stosur & Zhang Shuai, Babos & Mladenovic got off to a slow start and were dominated in the opening set, but on Sunday, the Roland Garros champions flipped that script.

It was a masterclass defence on Sunday in a somewhat lopsided final that was completed in 64 minutes.

“We really stood up and believed in our mental strength,” France’s Mladenovic said after the match.

The French-Hungarian pairing started red hot and captured 2 early breaks to run through a one-sided first set in just 24 minutes.

They gained a decisive break in the 6th game of the second set before completing a convincing victory over the Wimbledon champions.

Strycova had already secured the year-end number one doubles ranking for the first time in her career.

Working in perfect harmony together, with winning volleys flowing from the Hungarian’s racket in particular, Babos & Mladenovic conceded just 4 points behind their deliveries, while breaking their opponents 3 times.

Hsieh & Strycova, meanwhile, displayed little of the form that had seen them rout No 8 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Demi Schuurs in the previous round, with the Czech conceding the opening game on a double fault, while Hsieh from Taiwan was uncharacteristically slow to react on several occasions.

Towards the end of the 21-minute opening act, Hsieh repeatedly found her second serve punished by Mladenovic’s scorching returns.

The Wimbledon champions showed a flicker of a resurgence as the second set got under way, with Hsieh finding a pair of winners to break Babos for the first time, but it was all proved too brief.

Although the Chinese Taipei-Czech duo managed to get a foothold in more games over the course of the second act, they were still too error-prone to make it count on the scoreboard.

Volleying mistakes from Hsieh, and another Strycova double fault, meant that the break was immediately relinquished and, from 2-2 Babos & Mladenovic won 3 straight games on deciding points, including another break of the Hsieh serve, with the Hungarian once again delivering point-ending power at net in key moments.

This lead proved unassailable as Babos, stepping up to the line to serve for her third straight title, posted an emphatic love hold, sealing the title with a booming service winner.

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was on hand to present the trophy bearing her name to the champions, both of whom called it a surreal experience in their remarks on court.

“I don’t think we understand what just happened. It’s really such an honour to be here and to be among such great champions and great competitors. It’s an amazing experience to once again stand here,” Babos remarked.

“All week long it was amazing tennis. We knew that at this stage, when it is the best of the best, it is the little things that make the difference and we really stood up and believe in our mental strength. It’s the friendship we have together that carries us. It’s very special and strong,” Mladenovic said.

Their undefeated finish in the round-robin means that Babos & Mladenovic take home the full $1 million prize pot up for grabs in the doubles, while Hsieh & Strycova win $475,000 dollars as runners-up, having score 2 round-robin wins and 1 loss this week.

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