PARIS, France - No.2 seeds Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic thrilled the Court Simonne-Mathieu crowd with a battling 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(3) quarterfinal defeat of No.5 seeds Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai, recovering a 1-4 third-set deficit to seal their best ever Roland Garros performance as a partnership.
Prior to this week, the furthest the Hungarian-French duo had progressed at Mladenovic's home Grand Slam was the quarterfinals last year (although Mladenovic is a former champion, having lifted the trophy in 2016 alongside Caroline Garcia). Indeed, Roland Garros remains the only major at which Babos and Mladenovic have never played the final - but a revenge win over Stosur and Zhang, their conquerors in the Australian Open final in January, puts them a step closer to rectifying that.
Though the Australian-Chinese pair got off to a rocky start, with errant Stosur groundstrokes putting them down an early break, they swiftly righted the ship. Swarming the net to good effect and picking on Babos relentlessly, Stosur and Zhang reeled off six of the last seven games of the first set.
But if the Hungarian's mistakes had made her a target for Stosur and Zhang in the opener, Babos would elevate her game to become the MVP of a one-sided second set. Driving her backhand with ferocity, the 26-year-old also came up with some highlight reel shotmaking at crucial times: a leaping stab volley en route to breaking Zhang for 3-1, and a marvellous lob that sent both of her opponents simultaneously scrambling in vain to break Stosur for 5-1. Mladenovic, whose own creative angles on the drop volley were a consistent delight, served out to equalize, sealing the set on a backhand winner.
It was another touch of Mladenovic magic that turned the deciding set around. Stosur and Zhang had regained control, breaking Babos en route to a 4-1 lead; powering their forehands with relish, the Miami finalists held a point for 5-1 and a double break. Somehow, the Frenchwoman threaded the needle with an impossibly angled pass, slotting the ball past Zhang where there had been seemingly no room.
Rejuvenated and fired up, Babos and Mladenovic roared back, breaking Zhang back in the seventh game as the Australian Open champions' volleying dipped. The contest, now rivetingly close, would head inexorably towards a deciding tiebreak, where Babos and Mladenovic would dominate before putting away their second match point with an emphatic Babos overhead.
The 2018 Australian Open champions will now face either No.6 seeds Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka or the unseeded duo of Lyudmyla Kichenok and Jelena Ostapenko in the last four, while the top-half semifinal will pit Belgian-Swedish No.15 seeds Kirsten Flipkens and Johanna Larsson against the surprise unseeded Chinese pair Duan Yingying and Zheng Saisai.
The latter, playing together for the first time since teaming up in to reach the last four of the ITF W25 in Pingguo in January 2012, were up against the in-form No.4 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan, who were coming off a Madrid final and Nurnberg title - but Duan and Zheng saved one match point en route to squeezing through 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 to make a second semifinal, on a rather bigger stage, in as many tournaments as a team. Meanwhile, Linz champions Flipkens and Larsson came from a set down to upset No.7 seeds Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-1.