Doubles joy for Babos and Mladenovic

  • Matt Trollope
  • Elizabeth Bai

When Ekaterina Makarova belted a forehand well wide, Timea Babos shrieked.
She’d just achieved what her partner Kristina Mladenovic had enjoyed two years earlier – the feeling of winning her first Grand Slam doubles title.
Babos, of Hungary, and Mladenovic, of France, celebrated their first major doubles title as a duo with a 6-4 6-3 victory on Friday over Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

"Of course it's an incredible feeling to share this moment together on court. We really enjoy playing together. We improved overall I think every single match," Babos said. 

"Our spirit and our friendship together, it really helped through the week because ... we didn't start actually that well. In the beginning (of the tournament) we had some tough moments, some tough matches with playing not the level what we gave today. This was the key, to stay positive and help each other on court, and voila."

This was a credentialled quartet taking to the court at Rod Laver Arena.
Makarova and Vesnina were shooting for their first Australian Open title which would have landed them a career Golden Slam. The French (2013), Wimbledon (2014), US (2017) and Olympic (2016) champions were the second seeds and taking on the fifth seeds in Babos and Mladenovic, the latter who’d combined with Caroline Garcia to win the Roland Garros doubles title in 2016. Babos had featured in Grand Slam finals of her own, both at Wimbledon – in doubles in 2014, and mixed in 2015.
All four are also accomplished singles players – although Mladenovic, mired in a five-month, 15-match losing streak, would hardly feel that way currently – and the match that unfolded was a singles/doubles hybrid, with the women often rallying from the back of the court but also venturing forward in a more traditional approach to the tandem game.
It appeared early on that the experience of the Russians – who have played regularly together for five years – would win out.

Trailing 40-0 in the fifth game, they worked their way back to deuce before Vesnina played a biting inside-out sliced forehand approach shot to draw an error and hand the duo a break for a 3-2 lead.
Yet from 2-4 down, Babos and Mladenovic rallied. Increasingly vocal in both grunt and celebration, they stormed through four straight games – the last capped with a stabbed forehand volley winner by Mladenovic – to take the opening set.
Momentum swings persisted in the second. Makarova and Vesnina broke in the opening game, only to drop the next three games, before breaking back again.

At 3-3, the Russians trailed 40-15 but levelled at deuce, after Vesnina belted a return that forced a volley error from the fifth seeds. They kept threatening to break, extending the game to deuce three times, but couldn’t derail Babos and Mladenovic.
Losing that game seemed to take the wind out of their sails. Babos and Mladenovic, however, saw the finish line and went hard. Babos played a winning lob on the first point of the eighth game before Mladenovic hooked a heavy forehard crosscourt for a winner and 0-40.
They broke for 5-3, and despite facing three break-back points in the final game, fended all of them off before sealing victory in one hour and 20 minutes.

"At the end of the day, like we all say, as a tennis player, you remember the winner. You don't really mind who you played in the Grand Slam final or how you played it," Mladenovic said.

"Of course, it makes it more special (against Makarova and Vesnina). They're an amazing team together, one of the most consistent over the years. It makes it even nicer. Not because it's against them and we have something against them. Of course no. It's just something special to see that these girls are going for records and nice career.

"We are just very proud and of course enjoying this special moment."