SINGAPORE - Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic first came to Singapore together, each qualifying for their first BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global in 2015. The duo split soon after, only to reunite in 2018 and enjoy a scintillating season, bookended by title runs at the Australian Open and WTA Finals.
Babos, who won the title last year with Andrea Sestini Hlavackova, laughed when she thought of those early years with Mladenovic.
“Oh, God, we are so much better now!” she said after they survived top seeds and WTA Year-End Co-No.1s Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. “We spend a lot of time together not only in our job but off court, as well. Every time we have tougher moments, we just come back stronger.”
A point from winning the US Open, the No.2 seeds avenged that loss - one they describe as the most painful of their careers - to Ashleigh Barty and CoCo Vandeweghe before improving to 2-0 against Krejcikova and Siniakova, the reigning Roland Garros and Wimbledon winners.
“We are here with the best players, doubles players and of course singles players in the world. It's just an amazing story and feeling, and to share it with Kiki and to live through these moments together, it's very, very special. I'm really, really glad to be part of this story.”
It’s a story that began when both were barely teenagers, playing the European Team Championships in the under-14 division.
“I remember this Hungarian girl hitting the ball so hard,” Mladenovic said as the two laughed and reminisced. “You cannot imagine. I was, like, ‘Oh, wow, this girl is going to be so tough to beat.’”
“Being from Hungary, we’d always come with a not-great team, like always from terrible conditions and we arrive to France, everything is there, amazing, indoors, and then we are playing these girls that they are playing so good,” Babos added.
“So for me it was, like, ‘Okay, I think I really have to work my butt off to try, to compete with this one here.’”
Planning to stay together as they aim to take the WTA Doubles Co-No.1 ranking in 2019, the pair also push each other in singles, playing nine (Mladenovic leads 5-4) and splitting their 2018 meetings at the Mudabala Silicon Valley Classic and the Upper Austria Ladies Linz.
“From the beginning we are on the same page,” Mladenovic said. “I think personality, in a big way, it's the same. We have the same work ethic, the same ambitions. Our priority is singles, to be honest, and that's why this story is nice because we kind of just join forces, all the work we put through throughout the year on the doubles court and just try to improve, have fun.
“I think each other's weapons are a perfect match for the doubles game, and our communication is good. Doubles is going so fast that sometimes you don't really have time to call the balls and to communicate, and I feel like we feel each other's mindset. It's pretty fun to try to associate our both games.”
Opposites in their delivery, Babos sees things much more simply.
“Our games are matching, big time.”