EASTBOURNE, Great Britain -- In their first-ever tournament as a pairing, Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium and Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States kept their hot streak rolling, ousting Romanians Simona Halep and Raluca Olaru, 6-7(4), 6-2, [10-8], to reach the final of the Nature Valley International on Friday.
Mattek-Sands is playing her first tournament since the Australian Open due to persistent injuries, but the former doubles World No.1 looked in fighting form alongside Flipkens as they came back from 5-8 down in the match tiebreak to defeat Halep and Olaru in one hour and 37 minutes.
Halep and Olaru opened the event by upsetting the No.1 seeds and defending champions Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan, but fell to the experienced hands of Flipkens and Mattek-Sands. The victors had 24 winners to 16 unforced errors during the clash, while the Romanian team had 18 winners and 22 unforced errors.
In the first set, the forward-thinking play of Flipkens and Mattek-Sands gave them an early lead, with the American slamming a putaway to gain the first break of the match and lead 3-1. The Belgian/American pair had their first set point at 5-2 after an Olaru double fault, but a Mattek-Sands return went wide on deciding point, and Olaru held on for 5-3.
In that game, another sturdy volley by Mattek-Sands staved off a break point to reach deciding point, which doubled as a second set point, but deep groundstrokes by Halep claimed it, and the Romanians got back on serve at 5-4. After a love hold by Halep for 5-5, the Romanians returned sublimely in the next game, and broke again for a fourth straight game and a 6-5 lead.
Olaru raced to 40-0, garnering four set points, but Flipkens struck superb volleys to pull her team to a break, and into the tiebreak. However, the Romanian team controlled the tiebreak to reach 6-2, earning four more set points. Powerful play from Mattek-Sands helped her team to erase two more set points, but Halep served out the first set on their seventh chance.
Flipkens and Mattek-Sands jumped out to another big lead in the second set, and they would not cede this one. Flipkens slammed a return winner down the line to reach triple break point on Olaru’s serve at 1-1, and the Belgian punched a winning volley to clinch that break at love. Mattek-Sands would follow up with a volley winner two games later to break Halep and lead 4-1.
Olaru served her way past two set points to hold for 5-2, but that just delayed the inevitable in the second stanza, as Flipkens held at love to level the match at one set apiece, finishing the frame with back-to-back aces.
In the decisive match tiebreak, the Romanian pair started off well, as good volleying by Olaru propelled her team to a 6-3 lead. At 7-5, an overhead by Halep clipped the netcord to become an awkward winner, putting the Romanians two points away from victory at 8-5.
However, Flipkens stayed steely on serve to pull within 8-7, and after a Halep forehand error on her serve, the teams were deadlocked at 8-8. Mattek-Sands then forced an error with a beautiful backhand to earn her team match point, and the American hit a winning volley to give her team a fifth straight point and a sublime victory.