Saturday’s doubles semi-finals at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen saw No 2 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei & Barbora Strycova end the Cinderella run of No 8 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Demi Schuurs, 6-1 6-2.
The Wimbledon champions were dominant across the 55-minute clash to set a date with No 3 seeds and defending champions Timea Babos & Kristina Mladenovic in Sunday’s championship match, as they look to win their first season-ending title as a pair.
Strycova & Hsieh hit 11 winners and broke 4 times to win the first set, and never trailed in the encounter overall.
The Czech/Taiwanese pair struck 18 winners against 9 unforced errors to earn their victory, and ultimately broke 7 times in 8 return games.
Unable to gain traction on serve over the course of the match, Groenefeld & Schuurs did manage to break once in each set, and authored some resistance in the middle stages of the second set.
After losing serve in the 4th game to trail 6-1 3-1, a big return from Schuurs on the deciding no-ad point gave the No 8 seeds a second break, but they were unable to put another game on their side of the scoreboard after that.
Hsieh is looking to win her second title at the WTA Finals, as she triumphed with Peng Shuai in 2013 and was the runner-up the following year, while Strycova will be contesting her first final at the WTA Finals.
Strycova has already clinched the 2019 WTA Year-End World No 1 Doubles Ranking presented by Dubai Duty Free and, after first gaining the top spot at Wimbledon.
“Especially that [my first Grand Slam title] was at Wimbledon, it’s my favourite tournament, it was so incredible that everything happened there,” Strycova reflected. “And I am so glad and lucky to experience it with Su-Wei because she won there already before. So she had some experience.
“It was the highlight of my career from the doubles point of view, and also with the view of then becoming No 1 in the world. It was very, very nice.”
Later, the No 3 seeds Timea Babos & Kristina Mladenovic pulled off a remarkable comeback to get past No 7 seeds Samantha Stosur & Zhang Shuai 1-6 6-4 [10-8].
The defending champions were dominated from the outset and trailed 1-6 0-2, as well as 3-7 in the match tiebreak, but showed immense fighting spirit to overturn both deficits, extending their winning streak at the year-end finale to 7 together and 10 for Babos, who was also the 2017 champion alongside Andrea Sestini Hlavackova.
Stosur got off to a nervous start, dropping serve with a series of errors and a double fault, but the Australian-Chinese duo roared back with a spell of majestic form to reel off 8 consecutive games.
Both displayed superb reflexes and creative shotmaking, with Stosur half-volleying a forehand pass from the baseline to hold for 4-1 and sealing the final 2 games of the set with excellent volleying, while almost everything Zhang touched turned to gold.
On big points, the Australian Open champions were even better, capturing a run of 3 consecutive game-deciding points meant to emerge from the relatively tight initial passage of play with a hefty 4-1 lead, and another would consolidate an opening break of the Babos serve in the second set as Zhang held for 2-0.
While the defending champions had both been loose with their errors, both off the ground and at net, in the first set, they picked up form to claw back into the contest.
A firm drive volley from Mladenovic snapped their losing streak of games, and thereafter her smash and backhand return would prove formidable weapons in breaking the Stosur serve and setting the stage for a gripping second set.
With both teams now playing well, opportunities were rare, but having posted a series of impressive holds to build a 5-4 lead, the Franco-Hungarian team struck, unexpectedly, on the Zhang serve.
The Chinese still seemed to be in her purple patch as she thundered a backhand winner for a 30-0 lead, but a double fault opened the door and, swarming the net, Babos & Mladenovic stormed through it, taking their second set point as a Stosur volley found the net.
A riveting match tiebreak saw momentum oscillate wildly throughout.
Babos & Mladenovic struck first, moving up 3-1 thanks to powerful play from Babos and yet another Mladenovic backhand return nailed down the line , only to drop 6 consecutive points in a cascade of tight errors.
Despite building a 7-3 lead, though, Stosur & Zhang could not quite put their opponents away, as 2 remarkable gets – one lob from Babos and a backhand from Mladenovic – helped the Roland Garros champions steal 2 key points
The Babos backhand lit up again as they reeled off 7 of the last 8 points to set up a final date against Hsieh & Strycova.
Heis & Strycova defeated Babos & Mladenovic 7-6(5) 6-4 in their only previous meeting in this year’s Wimbledon semi-finals.
Babos & Mladenovic are aiming to become the 6th team to successfully defend a WTA Finals title, following Martina Navratilova & Pam Shriver, who defended the trophy a total of 7 times between 1982 and 1989, Gigi Fernandez & Natasha Zvereva (1993-94),
Martina Hingis & Anna Kournikova (1999-2000), Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur (2005-06) and Cara Black & Liezel Huber (2007-08).
Babosc could also become the 4th player to win a consecutive hat-trick of titles at this tournament following Navratilova, Shriver and Lindsay Davenport (1996-98 partnering Mary Joe Fernandez, Jana Novotna and Zvereva).