SINGAPORE - No.3 seeds Timea Babos and Andrea Hlavackova overturned a 0-3 head-to-head record and survived a dramatic injury to upset No.1 seeds Chan Yung-Jan and Martina Hingis 6-4, 7-6(5) in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global - thereby ending the Swiss star's legendary career.
The Taiwanese-Swiss pair had been riding a 19-match winning streak - one that included two victories over Babos and Hlavackova, in the Cincinnati quarterfinals and the Beijing final - but quickly fell behind 1-4 as the Hungarian-Czech duo nailed some ferocious returns to break twice. Though Babos dropped her own serve in the sixth game, the insurance break was enough to seal the set - the very first set the No.3 seeds had won from Chan and Hingis.
In a pulsating start to the second set, both teams were forced to fend off break points in three of the first four games. Though Hingis controlled rallies like a puppeteer whenever she was able to dictate with her legendary backhand, the star of the show was increasingly Hlavackova, whose efficiency in finishing points at net proved key throughout the match. Afterwards, the Czech player said: "I was in such a zone... I didn't even feel whether we were winning or losing, I just played!"
With both teams coming through those mini-tussles unscathed, the players settled into their grooves on serve - and eight consecutive service holds without a sniff of a break point followed to send the set into a tiebreak. However, the eleventh game had seen some worrying drama: as Hingis served at 30-0, Babos went over on her left ankle and, in obvious pain, took a medical time-out.
On resumption of play, Hlavackova was, if anything, even sharper than before, coming through two deuces to force the tiebreak. Battling to save her team's tournament, Chan came up with a brace of stunning winners in the seven-point shootout's opening stages, including a brilliant backhand on the line to haul the score back from 2-4 to 4-4.
But it wasn't enough to stave off the underdogs - and when Hingis sent a volley over the baseline in the final shot of her career, it was Babos and Hlavackova who were celebrating in both joy and relief. "It's difficult to speak, I didn't even realise it was match point - I wanted to make the return so badly, we had so many difficulties in the match," exclaimed Babos in her on-court interview afterwards.
Tomorrow's final will be Hlavackova's second WTA Finals championship match, having been runner-up in 2012 alongside Lucie Hradecka to Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova, but will mark Babos's debut at this stage of the tournament. Their opponents will be either No.2 seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina or Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson.