NEW YORK, NY, USA - Timea Babos has been towards the top of women's tennis in both singles and doubles, and which makes a return to the US Open Qualifying tournament for the first time since 2011 a unique mental challenge for the former World No.25.
"I’m not used to it," she admitted after a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 win over Kurumi Nara. "I’m really hoping this is my last big tournament where I have to play qualies."
Babos is aiming for an eighth straight US Open main draw appearance, having not played qualies in Flushing Meadows since 2011. Ranked up to World No.3 in doubles after winning Roland Garros with childhood friend Kristina Mladenovic, Babos was forced to play Grand Slam qualifying for the first time since the 2012 Australian Open at Wimbledon, where she fell in the first round to 2013 finalist Sabine Lisicki.
"I’m used to it, having tough draws!" she laughed on Tuesday evening. "I’m really happy, though. Kurumi and I have been on the highest levels. She’s had good results the last couple weeks, beating good players at the French Open and pushing Serena in a tough match."
Babos dominated Nara, a former World No.32, through the opening set before losing serve late in the second set and falling behind a break in the third. As the big-hitting Hungarian's frustrations boiled over, she had a calming force in new coach Michael Joyce, reassuring her from the sidelines.
"We’ve known each other for a very long time, since I was 15 or 16 years old. I played doubles with one his old players, Jessica Pegula, who became a great player. After he stopped working with Eugenie Bouchard, I contacted him, and it has worked out really well. We started after the French Open, and I’ve had great results since. I’m really enjoying the work together."
Babos exclaimed that she has started winning three times as many matches since working with Joyce - a former ATP pro who has worked with the likes of Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, and Johanna Konta - and indeed, she is back up from up from World No.148 - her lowest ranking since 2012 - and is on the precipice of a Top 100 return.
"I have no points to defend, pretty much until the Australian Open. I’m very close to being back to the Top 100. That’s not my goal, but I’m definitely on the right track."
At her best, she can blast the ball, the way she did back in 2016, pushing Simona Halep to three sets in the third round. As she edged towards the finish line, the more defense-oriented Nara was left with no answers as she smacked a series of big serves to close out the match in just under two hours.
The 26-year-old will face similar opposition in the next round, as former Top 60 Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena awaits, but Babos is looking forward to settling into New York City after a successful week in Vancouver, where she made the semifinals of an ITF Pro Circuit event.
"It’s really my first full day in New York, and it wasn’t easy to adjust, but I’ve always played my best tennis here. I had some great wins and some great results in singles. I’m just happy to be back. I have some friends here, and I obviously haven’t gotten to do any shopping yet, so I still have a couple things to do."