WTA Finals: Defending champions Babos and Mladenovic off to fantastic start
Babos and Mladenovic will look to defend their title in Shenzhen | Photo: Clive Brunskill

Defending champions Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic came to the new grounds of the WTA Finals, held for the first time in Shenzhen, looking to replicate their success from Singapore last year. Despite competing in a limited number of tournaments, the Hungarian-French pairing was able to qualify for the prestigious year-end championships and kickstarted their campaign in the best possible manner, clinching a 6-2, 5-7, [10-6] win over the sister pairing of Chan Hao-ching and Latisha Chan.

The Chan sisters return to the WTA Finals as a pairing for the first time since 2015, which was also coincidentally the first and only time the finals had adopted the round-robin format for the doubles competition. They provided a very tough fight for the third seeds but were unable to seal the upset in their first career meeting.

Babos and Mladenovic, aggressive in their play, blasted 26 winners to just 17 unforced errors as they broke serve on six different occasions. The Chan sisters did not play a bad match, hitting 19 winners to 18 unforced errors but were unclutch on the important points.

Both pairs pose for a picture before the match | Photo: Matthew Stockman
Both pairs pose for a picture before the match | Photo: Matthew Stockman

Babos and Mladenovic overcome mid-match wobble to prevail

The third seeds started the match in dominating fashion, overpowering their opponents to claim the opening break in the first game. The Chan sisters were having problems dealing with the interceptions at the net and was being overwhelmed at the baseline as they soon found themselves trailing by two breaks. With Hao-ching feeling the effects of a scary-looking fall during the match, it seemed like nothing was going well for the Taiwanese duo.

A smash error from Mladenovic allowed the Chan sisters to return back into contention, but she slammed the comeback door shut immediately as her fantastic serving sealed the opening frame 6-2 after just 34 minutes of play.

The second set followed a similar pattern with a comfortable victory looking highly plausible for the pre-match favourites, but the Chan sisters came out of nowhere to save two match points on the return and levelled the scores at 5-5. That was the pinnacle moment of the second set as the momentum shifted hands, with Babos and Mladenovic spraying unforced errors from every part of the court since.

The Chan sisters in action | Photo: Lintao Zhang
The Chan sisters in action | Photo: Lintao Zhang

Bringing the affair into a match tiebreak to decide the winner, things got interesting especially with the underdogs growing in confidence. However, Babos and Mladenovic showed exactly why they are multiple Major champions as they rebounded from a 1-3 deficit to rattle off four consecutive points, completely turning the tables.

From there, they did not look back as Mladenovic’s stunning forehand lob winner at 7-6 proved to be decisive, allowing the defending champions to edge one step closer to replicating the same feat this year.