SHENZHEN, China - Defending champions Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos are back into the semifinals of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, advancing as the only undefeated team to reach the semifinals.
The No.3 seeds were one of the most dominant doubles teams during the first half of the season after starting the year in fine form with a run to the Australian Open final, going on to claim back-to-back clay court titles in Istanbul and the French Open - their second Grand Slam as a pair.
But according to former doubles World No.1 Mladenovic, the pair’s biggest wins as a team have always came away from the tennis courts.
“For me, it doesn’t matter the season that we had, the important thing will always be the friendship between me and Timea, really,” Mladenovic said. “This year we didn’t maybe play as much as we wanted. But that’s just how it is, because our priority is singles. We helped each other through that and made decisions together.
“Stepping on court with her on the biggest stages, it’s the best thing, always. Every single time I go on court with her in the big matches, when there’s like adrenaline or stress, or fears or emotions... even the fun practices, or like the moody days, it’s just everything!” Mladenovic laughed.
“The life with her makes it so much more fun and more enjoyable.”
Former rivals in juniors, the pair’s relationship has grown and evolved over the years as they navigated the transition into the professional tour - culminating in a friendship that has seen them combine for multiple Grand Slam titles and individually reach the doubles World No.1 ranking.
“We’ve known each other for a very long time,” Babos explained. “I think we really grew together, we matured together… And in the last couple of years that really helped us on growing together as individual persons and just to be strong and realize that at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily the victory that matters.
“Of course, we always want to win, but someone has to lose sometimes.”
For the time being, the pair seem to be doing more winning than losing when they take the court together. Although they admitted that, unlike most teams, they are not a fan of the round robin format, which returned to the WTA Finals doubles competition for the first time since 2015, they had no problems getting through the opening hurdles and building up a 3-0 record.
“The funny thing is... we are super rarely practicing doubles,” Mladenovic admitted. “Actually never. The only time we practice is those kinds of weeks that we’re here and only focused on that.
“We are big competitors, so [winning Roland Garros] was just amazing, every single moment. Personally I cherish all of them, we had the trophy in Australia [last year] and we went back again to the final. It was a very special thing and we learned a lot, helped each other a lot at the end. And yeah, afterwards we claimed another Grand Slam title together, which is just amazing. It helped us to be here another time.”
Despite admitting to ‘rarely’ hitting the practice court together to work on their doubles game - this week has seen them practice together the most out of the year - Babos pointed to the way both players’ variety and weapons in singles help smooth the transition on the doubles court.
“Our game is really matching in general,” Babos explained. “So we just need a couple of days, couple of practices to really adjust and make a bigger difference. Also our singles game allows us also to be like this. I mean, we know how to volley. Some singles players, they can be the best in the world but they have no idea how to volley.”
“I think it’s a huge advantage that we’ve played together for a long time and did great things together already.”
No.3 seeds Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic will take on No.7 seeds Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai in the semifinals of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, in a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final.