SINGAPORE - No.3 seeds Timea Babos and Andrea Hlavackova have taken the doubles title at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global for the first time with a tight, high-quality 4-6, 6-4, 10-5 victory over unseeded Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson. It is the Hungarian-Czech pair's fifth trophy of the year, having only teamed up for the first time in May.
The Dutch-Swedish duo had booked their spot in the final after a giant-killing run through the draw, having eliminated No.4 seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua in the quarterfinals and defending champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in the semifinals, and a third consecutive upset seemed to be on the cards after their sharp start today.
In a first set dominated by the server, the first nine games passed without a single break point chance - indeed, Hlavackova was the only player even taken to deuce in the fourth game, a half-chance 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 ninth game, it seemed as though the Swede - the least experienced player on the court - would be the first to crack. However, she and Bertens gathered themselves to hold that game, and were rewarded in the following game with the first chances to break of the match. 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."
That's exactly what the four-time titlists did. Upping the ante with their power, they immediately broke Bertens for the first time - and though Hlavackova was unable to consolidate the lead in the second game, their renewed aggression set the tone for the 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 seventh 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.
Therein, with the Martina Navratilova Trophy in their sights, Babos and Hlavackova made the most of their momentum. A Bertens double fault got their unseeded opponents off to the worst possible start, and three consecutive points finished authoritatively at net by Hlavackova quickly made it 4-0 to the No.3 seeds. Indeed, five of the match tiebreak's 15 points would be ended by Hlavackova in the forecourt - though on their first match point, it was Babos who took the honors 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 Hlavackova, 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."
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."