MELBOURNE, Australia - Bethanie Mattek-Sands is gauranteed to keep the No.1 ranking she first earned after winning the Brisbane International. But she'll have to beat the team that helped keep her there if she and partner Lucie Safarova want to win a second Australian Open title.
Heading into the first Grand Slam of the season, Mattek-Sands had freshly wrested the top spot from Sania Mirza, but was immediately under threat in Melbourne, as Caroline Garcia, Kristina Mladenovic, and Elena Vesnina all had a chance to usurp the American depending on how they performed.
Enter No.12 seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Peng Shuai, recently reunited partners who've won a combined five major titles in women's doubles and mixed. The pair started the season with a win at the Shenzhen Open and took the momentum all the way into the final of their first Grand Slam tournament as a pair.
Along the way, they knocked out Vesnina and partner Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals, and then stunned top seeds Garcia and Mladenovic in the semifinals. The French were the only team who could have taken No.1 from Mattek-Sands, who danced her way into the final with Safarova.
Hlavackova is into the Australian Open final for a second straight year, having finished runner-up to Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza alongside countrywoman Lucie Hradecka. Mattek-Sands and Safarova won their first Grand Slam together Down Under in 2015, going on to win the French Open that year as well.
With all the top teams performing well to start the season, Mattek-Sands will do well to extend her lead as much as possible; can Safarova help give her a head start in Friday's final?