NEW YORK, NY, USA - Timea Babos and Andrea Hlavackova have endured much apart throughout the season, but little can dampen their combined competitive spirit, one that was on full display in a dramatic Labor Day encounter with No.12 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Monica Niculescu.
The pair led the Ladies Open Biel Bienne champions by a set and a break before finding themselves down 0-4 in the decider - and later 2-5 in the final set tiebreak - before ultimately emerging victorious, 6-2, 6-7(1), 7-6(5), advancing into their first Grand Slam quarterfinal since pairing up in April.
Speaking to WTA Insider after the match, Babos admitted her partner’s unshakeable will to win was infectious.
“From the very start of our partnership, when when we won a huge match in Madrid, I remember telling my dad and my coach how it incredible it is to see how much she can still appreciate a win.”
“I just love winning!” Hlavackova interrupted as the two dissolved into giggles. “Put me on a parking lot!”
“It’s incredible,” Babos continued, “how happy she is to win a match like this, being a multiple Grand Slam champion, and there she is, on the ground to win a third round.”
Hlavackova can’t help but feel as though she had fallen down on home soil, having enjoyed her career’s highest highs at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. As a singles player, she reached the second week of the US Open in 2012; a year later, she partnered Lucie Hradecka to beat the Williams sisters and the dynamic Aussie duo of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua to win the women’s doubles title.
“I think it’s just the amazing memories here. I know that if you are down one day - completely down the way I was in 2013 after finishing qualies, in all kinds of ways - that in two weeks, incredible things can completely change your life.”
There’ve been more ups and downs since for the Czech veteran, who led the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard with Peng Shuai earlier this year, only for that partnership to suddenly end after the Miami Open.
“There’s not a moment you should give up and start to feel sorry for yourself, because there’s always some miracle around the corner. That’s what happened in 2013 for me, and it’s just the best memory of my life, to have such a run. That, of course, makes me more relaxed at this tournament, because I’ve already done it all, so I’m enjoying another round, and embracing it.”
Babos linked up with Hlavackova ahead of the clay court season - winning their first title as a team at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem and finishing runner-up at the Mutua Madrid Open - and can certainly draw inspiration from her partner’s triumphs over adversity.
Following an impressive run to her second WTA title at home in Budapest, the 24-year-old suffered though a nine-match losing streak that ended just three weeks ago at the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
“I’ve had a tougher period in my singles, so that probably had an effect on our doubles. But we were fighting, trying to get back. We had some tough losses, some tough rounds, tough opponents, and tough draws, so it’s just most important to hang in there and try to give everything we have.
“This is what has happened so far at this US Open. Every match, we’ve went in trying to give 200 percent, and it paid off at the end.”
All that effort means more time preparing to take on No.4 seeds Sania Mirza and Peng Shuai for a spot in the semifinals, and less spent exploring the big city.
“We’re really bad at that,” Hlavackova laughed.
“I’m the hotel person…” Babos said.
“…and I’m so boring, so we haven’t done anything. Anything!” Hlavackova finished.
Around the grounds…
The Round of 16 completed with the biggest surprise of the tournament, as top seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina saw their 12-match winning streak come to an abrupt end at the hands of No.14 seeds Andreja Klepac and María José Martínez Sánchez, 6-3, 6-4.
Makarova and Vesnina were less than 24 hours removed from a three-set second round win over Nadiia Kichenok and Anastasia Rodionova, a match itself not long after Vesnina’s late-night third round singles loss to Madison Keys on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The loss guarantees Lucie Safarova will hold onto WTA Doubles World No.1 following the US Open, as the Russians needed to win the title to usurp the Czech veteran, who ascended to the top of the rankings during the Western & Southern Open.
Safarova's ranking will likely remain under threat through the remainder of 2017, as she and injured partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands surged through the Asian Swing last season, winning back-to-back titles at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and the China Open before falling in the final of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
Conversely, Makarova and Vesnina went 0-2 between the US Open and Singapore - which they won - last fall; Safarova has an outside shot of qualifying for the WTA Finals with current partner Barbora Strycova, but will need a strong performance at the US Open and solid results in Asia to boost their chances.
Meanwhile, Hlavackova’s longtime partner Lucie Hradecka has found success this season with another Czech in Katerina Siniakova. Together, the No.7 seeds survived a tumultuous final game to defeat No.11 seeds Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson, 6-1, 6-3.
Quarterfinal action begins on Tuesday with Hradecka and Siniakova taking on Klepac and Martínez Sánchez in the hopes of reaching their second major semifinal of the season.