Singapore | Babos and Hlaváčková take doubles honours
They snatched the glory out of Martina Hingis last hour and came from a set down to take the honours at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global for the first time.
Third-seeded Timea Babos and Andrea Hlaváčková grabbed their fifth trophy of the year with a tight, high-quality 4-6 6-4 [10-5] victory over the unseeded pair of Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson on the final day of the year-ending championships.
The Hungarian-Czech teamed up for the first time in May and have been making quite a name for themselves.
The Dutch-Swedish duo booked their spot in the final by way of a giant-killing run through the draw, having eliminated No 4 seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua in the quarter-finals and defending champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in the semis.
For a spell, a third consecutive upset seemed to be on the cards after their sharp start on Sunday.
In a first set dominated by the server, the first 9 games passed without a single break point opportunity, with only Hlaváčková taken to deuce in the fourth game to offer a half-chance that she and Babos swiftly snuffed out with some canny crosses.
After a shanked double fault and a big miss down the line from Larsson in the 9th game, it seemed the Swede, the least experienced player on the court, might become the the first to crack but she managed to hold onto that game.
She and Bertens were rewarded in the next with the first chances to break and Larsson seized the opportunity with gusto, firing a backhand into the open court on her team’s second set point.
“I felt we were already in the cemetery,” recalled Babos afterwards about falling behind. “They were all over us and we had to change something.”
Upping the ante with their power, Babos and Hlaváčková broke Bertens for the first time, and although the Czech failed to consolidate the lead in the second game, their renewed aggression set the tone for the second set.
As the exchanges grew increasingly thrilling with all four players scrambling and diving around the court, Babos and Hlavackova forged another breakthrough in the 7th game, eventually breaking Larsson’s serve on a rare Bertens volley miss, and holding their lead to seal a 6-4 set and force a match tiebreak.
With the Martina Navratilova Trophy in their sights, Babos and Hlaváčková made the most of their momentum in the breaker.
A Bertens double fault got their unseeded opponents off to the worst possible start, and three consecutive points finished authoritatively at net by Hlaváčková quickly made it 4-0 to the third seeds.
Indeed, five of the match tiebreak’s 15 points were ended by Hlavackova in the forecourt although, on their first match point, it was Babos who took the honours to seal the duo’s first WTA Finals title with yet another poach.
“I can’t believe we pulled this match through – they played so well!” marvelled Hlaváčková, previously a finalist at the WTA Finals in 2012 alongside Lucie Hradecka, afterwards.
“We were not playing as great as before and were a bit nervous – we were just more brave in the end.
“It was a very tough match to turn around but I think in the end, I think you [Babos] changed it.
“We were very, like, loud and we started to scream ‘Come on’ on every ball,” she added.
“We turned it around inside us. We started to believe that this match is not going from us. And in the super-tiebreak, we were just outstanding.”
Babos, playing her first final here, confirmed that their change of tactics had paid off.
“We were so much more powerful and aggressive,” she said. “I really believe big champions have to do this.”
“I think our game complements each other very well. Yeah, definitely the key to our success. I think we really played well this week,” the 24-year-old Babos told reporters after the pair claimed a fifth title of the year.
“We put our game together for this one, and we really beat the best teams in the world. Yeah, I’m very, very happy with how we performed here.”
For the retiring Martina Hingis, she could not hold back her tears during a special on-court ceremony celebrating her long and illustrious career in tennis.
The Swiss was honoured by the WTA ahead of the WTA Finals singles clash between Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams, as the organisation’s chiefs paid tribute to the 37-year-old.
The five-time Grand Slam singles champion suffered a defeat in the semi-finals along with doubles partner Chan Yung-jan to eventual champions Babos and Hlaváčková to draw an end to her professional life on a tennis court.
Hingis lifted an incredible 25 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, with her first major title coming more than 20 years ago.
“I think now it’s definite,” she had said of her retirement for a third time. “It’s different, because before I walked away thinking I might come back.”
WTA bosses were not alone in praising her career, with Roger Federer also paying tribute when her decision was made public.
“Martina was partially the one who showed me how it was all done,” he said on Thursday.
“It was great for Switzerland to have someone of her calibre. We were very lucky. I loved playing with her at the Hopman Cup, she was always super friendly, I love that about her.
“I’m not sad to see her retire, she’s been in the game for long enough, she seems at peace with her decision – that’s wonderful. I’ve always been a fan of her and I always will be.”