Shenzhen | Doubles draw shapes up as Babos & Mladenovic reach semis
The doubles competition at Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen is a big deal and similarly to the ATP Finals at the O2, the best women players in the world are featured alongside the top 8 singles players.
It could have gone either way, but we just played it point by point, and we managed to do it Elise Mertens
On Wednesday, after suffering a defeat in their opener, Australian Open and Wimbledon champions Elise Mertens & Aryna Sabalenka, who are the top seeds in Shenzhen, rebounded with a one-hour and 48-minute victory over the Chan sisters from Chinese Taipei, Hao-ching and Latisha, 7-6(5) 6-4.
Having fallen to Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Demi Schuurs in their first match on Monday, the top seeds fired 4 aces, while the Chans had none, and eventually squeaked out their victory with one extra break in the second set to notch up their first win of the week and keep their chances of qualifying for the semi-finals open.
“Of course you have 3 matches and, hopefully, more,” said Mertens. “We’re really happy with the way we played and that we got the win, and it was a really tight one.
“It could have gone either way, but we just played it point by point, and we managed to do it.”
The Chans built an early 3-0 lead before Mertens & Sabalenka fought back, pulling the opening frame into a tiebreak.
There, the Chan sisters built a commanding 5-1 lead before the top seeds, once again, methodically chipped away at it, helped along by some huge Sabalenka service returns.
The top seeds reeled off the last 6 points in a row to steal the one-set lead.
After two early exchanges of breaks in the second set, the Belgian/Belarusian duo claimed the pivotal break in the final game of the rubber, converting their 3rd match point to seal a much-needed victory.
“It didn’t start really well,” Sabalenka admitted. “There was nothing to lose, so we started doing our things, and we came back in the match.
“Right now, I think the story of the week is getting better,” she added.
“We’re just enjoying our time here, and we’re really happy to qualify for Shenzhen, and to be here and fight for a trophy. We’ll just do our best.”
At the end of the day, 2019 Roland Garros champions Timea Babos & Kristina Mladenovic moved one step closer to defending their 2018 WTA Finals title, ousting Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Demi Schuurs, 7-5 6-2, and clinching a spot in the semi-finals out of the Red Group.
Mertens & Sabalenka and Groenefeld & Schuurs are still in with a chance to join them there
The Belarusian/Belgian top seeds could still win the Red Group with a victory over Babos & Mladenovic on Friday, and could also advance to the semis with a loss if the Chan sisters beat Groenefeld & Schuurs.
Groenefeld & Schuurs can only advance to the knockout stage if they win their final match against the Chans on Friday and Babos & Mladenovic defeat top seeds Mertens & Sabalenka.
The Chan sisters are already out of semi-final contention.
Babos & Mladenovic can breathe easier after their 74-minute win.
“It’s never easy to go out every second day and play against the best, but so far, we did a good job, and I’m very happy about it,” Babos said, after the victory.
“We came here to play 5 matches, hopefully, so we still have some fuel in the tank,” the Hungarian continued with a laugh.
Babos & Mladenovic found themselves in a dire predicament early, as the adept volleys of Schuurs and the powerful play from Groenefeld put pressure on the defending champions.
Groenefeld blasted a put-away to give her team the first break of the match at 5-3.
Babos, though, turned around the next game, ending 2 of the last 3 points with stunning backhand winners down the line to get back on serve.
The German/Dutch pair then held 2 set points at 5-4 on the Babos serve, but Mladenovic saved the first with a winning volley, and Babos saved the deciding point with a strong serve to level the set at 5-5.
Schuurs then handed over a break with a double fault, and suddenly, the Roland Garros champions held a 6-5 lead.
Serving for the set, Mladenovic fired a forehand winner crosscourt to give her team a 4th consecutive game and a hard-fought one-set lead.
“We lost a couple close games, a couple no-ads and break points, and then probably it got into our heads,” Babos stated.
“But after that, we fought back really hard together, and we played a very big game at 5-3, and overall, the end of the first set was great. We just picked up our game, and that’s most important, to finish strong.”
A Babos double fault gave Groenefeld & Schuurs an early 2-0 lead in the second set, but that was a minor blip as the defending champions went on to win 6 games in a row to wrap up the win.
The teams finished with an equal number of unforced errors, but Babos & Mladenovic ended the encounter with 18 winners to their opponents’ 12.
“It’s the best of the best, I would say, and it’s such a prestigious event, and we’re just very proud to be here,” said the Frenchwoman, after the match.
“We are fighting all year long to be great at every single match and tournament, and the WTA Finals is just a big show and you want to give it an extra push to compete.”