TAIPEI CITY, Chinese Taipei -- Timea Babos’s exceptional start to 2018 continued on Sunday, as the No.4 seed from Hungary claimed the Taiwan Open singles title with a victory over Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova, 7-5, 6-1.
Babos traveled to Chinese Taipei after a hugely successful Australian Open, winning the women’s doubles with Kristina Mladenovic, and finishing as runner-up in the mixed doubles with Rohan Bopanna. Her form translated perfectly to the singles in Taipei City, as she moved through to the final, before easing to victory over Kozlova in one hour and 25 minutes.
"It’s been five-and-a-half weeks, amazing five-and-a-half weeks," Babos told the press after her match. "Starting with a quarterfinal [at the Shenzhen Open], winning my first Slam in doubles, beating a Top 10 player in singles [CoCo Vandeweghe in the first round of the Australian Open], and here winning another title in singles, it’s been amazing."
"So far this season, in all my matches I’ve played, I’ve played good, I fought hard, and this is what happened all week here," Babos continued. "I had some difficult moments -- every single match brought some difficult moments. But I was able to stay there and to manage them, and this was the key for this week."
With the 2018 Taiwan Open championship, the Hungarian has collected the third WTA singles trophy of her career, after title runs at the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey in 2012 and the Hungarian Ladies Open in Budapest last year.
Kozlova, contesting her first WTA final, had beaten Babos in their only previous meeting, in the qualifying of the 2015 Qatar Total Open in Doha. But Babos got through a tight first set before emerging victorious with a hard-hitting display, blasting 38 winners, including 12 aces.
Kozlova started the match by breaking the Babos serve, deploying a couple of stunning dropshots to unnerve the powerful Hungarian. Babos immediately broke back for 1-1, using slice forehands in two consecutive points to close out the game. The two players continued to exhibit an array of shots, while also showing off their excellent groundstrokes which had led them to the final.
Babos again fell behind a break, hitting a double fault down break point and handing Kozlova a 3-2 advantage. Kozlova followed that up by surviving one break point in a lengthy game to hold for 4-2, using exceptional backhands to frustrate Babos.
"The first set, I think it was very difficult for me to start," said Babos. "I was a bit slower today than before. It’s a final, somehow you have to manage a different kind of nerves."
But once Babos held at love in the next game, she started to turn the match around, using her vast experience to move past the WTA final debutante. Another long game on the Kozlova serve, with four deuces, went the way of the Hungarian after she hit a screaming forehand winner to break for 4-4, followed by a literal scream of joy and relief.
Kozlova refused to easily cede the set to Babos, continuing to hang with the Hungarian via scintillating backhands and successful dropshots. But the fearsome serve of Babos started to fully click, and she hit three aces in one game to hold for 6-5.
In the next game, a Babos groundstroke dribbled over the net, giving her a break point which doubled as set point. There, another strong shot flummoxed a net-rushing Kozlova, and the Ukrainian pushed a backhand wide to wrap up a tightly contested opening set.
"It was not easy, she played really well and really aggressive in the first set," Babos explained. "But I stayed there, I got all the important moments, and I really fought hard."
"After I won the first set, I relaxed a bit, and I really let go of my shots, and I played a lot faster," Babos elaborated, specifically noting that she was extremely happy with how her serve was working during the match.
After dropping a set which she easily could have won, the wind slightly went out of Kozlova's sails. The 23-year-old had a misstep serving at 1-0 in the second set, when she hit two unforced errors and a double fault to be broken right away. Babos pounced, holding serve easily for a commanding 3-0 lead.
Kozlova's last best chance came on the Babos serve at 3-1, getting to 30-30, but an unforced error and a long service return allowed the Hungarian to hold for 4-1. Kozlova failed to recover from missing that small window, and dropped serve at love to give Babos a 5-1 lead and an opportunity to serve for the championship.
After her heroics in Melbourne, the 24-year-old Babos was hardly overcome by the gravity of the occasion, and she closed out the match in the next game with an ace, thereby clinching her second singles title in the last 12 months, and her third singles title overall.
"I really enjoy playing here," Babos told the press. "I love indoor hard, it’s my favorite surface, and I always have great support. I have a bit of a fan club in [Taipei City], so I really enjoy playing here. Today it was amazing, they were supporting me all the way to the last point."