INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Kristina Mladenovic's new partnership with Svetlana Kuznetsova hit the big time on Sunday as the pair upset No.5 seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Peng Shuai, 6-2, 7-5 to reach the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.
"We just discussed this at the end of the match," a breathless Mladenovic said after the match about their success. "We're absolutely amazed with the way we're playing for our first time together."
Mladenovic announced her immediate split from longtime partner Caroline Garcia after the Middle East swing, with Garcia partnering Karolina Pliskova while the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy champion chose Kuznetsova, a two-time Australian Open doubles champion.
"We had such a tough draw from the beginning; we had Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke in the opener and then Hlavackova/Peng was another extremely difficult round. We managed to win both in two sets and it's so enjoyable for us to play with each other."
"Never say never," Kuznetsova added when reminded that she'd initially planned to scale back her doubles schedule. "One day, I woke up to text messages from Kristina asking if I wanted to play doubles in Indian Wells and Miami. I wasn't completely awake so I said to myself that I'd reply later after thinking it over. I thought it was a great offer; I was looking for a partner for these events anyway, so I agreed and we'll see how it goes."
Hlavackova and Peng have been one of the teams to beat in 2017, reaching finals at the Australian Open and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to top the Road to Singapore leaderboard, but Mladenovic and Kuznetsova needed just one hour and 14 minutes to dismiss the duo out on Stadium 6.
"I feel like she's like me on the court," Mladenovic said. "She thinks a lot, she's very smart and has great hands. She has this kind of tactical instinct that I love, and she's also great with all the shots around the court. We're having fun, it's something new, and I guess our games clicked, or we couldn't have produced such quality tennis against such experienced teams. We're surprised with the outcome so far, but we're absolutely thrilled."
"It's early to say, but these last two matches have been the best doubles I've played since last year at the French Open," noted Kuznetsova. "I just think we're doing simple things; we do good, we respect and support each other. We won't play great all the time, but so far it's cool. I don't mind playing doubles like this."
Up next for the French/Russian pair will be reigning Australian Open winners and top seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, who dispatched Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson, 6-1, 7-5. Another big win will surely cause them to consider through the French Open, where Mladenovic is the defending champion.
"We're set for Indian Wells and Miami, and then we'll re-evaluate ahead of the clay court season, if we want to make it a permanent partnership."
Around the grounds, reigning Olympic Gold medalists and No.2 seed Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina knocked out Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai, 6-2, 6-4, while No.6 seeds Chan Yung-Jan and Martina Hingis continued to settle into their partnership with a 6-1, 7-5 win over Andreja Klepac and María José Martínez Sánchez.