A repeat of the Australian Open final saw the results going the other way today, with top seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina keeping their hopes for the top spot alive with a terrific comeback victory over the inspired team of Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic in this thrilling battle between the top teams on the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard.
Coming back from a set and a break down, before retrieving from a 3-5 deficit in the deciding match tie-break, it was never an easy match-up for the Russians but the title at the Mutua Madrid Open now puts them just 200 points behind the world number one Latisha Chan, who is defending the title in Rome this week. Hence, they have a great chance to usurp the top position, one of the two feats missing from their list of achievements as a pair.
Dominating start from Babos/Mladenovic as they claim the first set 6-2
It was simply the best start any pair would have asked for, with Babos and Mladenovic getting off to a perfect start and steered towards a commanding 3-0 lead early on. The Australian Open champions were overpowering their Russian opponents while putting up a world-class display up at the net. Makarova was the first to get broken, though it was her compatriot’s errors at the net which proved costly. Solid baseline play from Mladenovic then saw the Hungarian-French pairing consolidate the break for the huge lead.
Makarova and Vesnina soon found themselves in some deep trouble, having faced a couple of break points in the fourth game as well. Nonetheless, consecutive winners by the three-time Grand Slam champions ensured that they got onto the board and lessened the deficit instead. They finally seemed to have found their groove as they broke straight back, returning on serve within a blink of an eye.
However, Babos and Mladenovic were determined to fight off their spirited comeback, immediately grabbing the lead once more with errors starting to flow everywhere from the Russians’ game. Serving to stay in the set at 2-5 down, Makarova made a stunning volley error on deciding point, allowing the third seeds to comfortably take the opening set 6-2 after just 32 minutes of play.
Makarova/Vesnina fights back from the brink, takes the second set
It was yet another impressive start to the set for Babos and Mladenovic, who continued to ride on their momentum and backed it up with an affirming service hold in the first game. Another error by Makarova at the net saw the world’s top pairing down a set and a break — with every part of their game not working.
Trouble was incoming but the moment Makarova and Vesnina faced the pressure, they stepped up to the occasion and performed way above their initial level. An outstanding return winner on the forehand by Vesnina helped to erase the deficit, though it was just the beginning of a vicious four-game run by the reigning Wimbledon champions.
Despite having all the momentum, a slight misfocus at 4-2 30-0 allowed Babos and Mladenovic to have a way back into the set, with some impressive serving from the Frenchwoman saving them from the brink. They soon broke back to level the scores at 4-4, but once again it was Vesnina who performed well under pressure, sending in an unbelievable return off a tricky kick serve by Babos. Ultimately, they served out the second set and the Russian pair were obviously pumped up as the match was sent into a deciding match tie-break to decide the proceedings.
Makarova/Vesnina edge through in thrilling decider
Starting the match tie-break in the best possible way, Makarova and Vesnina played some aggressive tennis and stormed towards a commanding 3-0 lead though their advantage was soon erased as they started to commit excess errors which led to Babos and Mladenovic turning the tables completely, rattling five consecutive points for a 5-3 lead instead.
Just when the Russian pairing was in huge danger, Babos sent in a pivotal smash error which gave Makarova and Vesnina a way back into the match. From 5-7 down, the top seeds claimed four straight points and earned themselves championship points in the process. They were second-time lucky, with an unreturnable serve by Vesnina sealing the deal for them.