SINGAPORE - Defending champion Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Singapore debutante Barbora Strycova catapulted into the semifinals of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global on Thursday, kicking off the doubles competition with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over María José Martínez Sánchez and Andreja Klepac.
"My first reaction was that I looked at my coaches, and then I looked at Andy. I was like, 'Maybe I should have looked at her first!'" Strycova joked after the match. "Still, I'm so happy we made it through to the semis."
Known as the “Angry Birds,” the all-Czech duo dominated the doubles specialists in the Singapore Indoor Stadium, surging past the No.8 seeds in one hour and 13 minutes.
"We played a very good team, with a lot of experience, but we managed to overplay them and take every chance we had, and that's why the score looked so smooth," Sestini Hlavackova added. "But it was still a tough match."
Sestini Hlavackova is making her fifth WTA Finals with a third partner, finishing runner-up with Lucie Hradecka in 2012 and winning the title last year with Timea Babos. The former doubles World No.3 paired up with Strycova at the Miami Open and have now won 15 of their last 18 matches since the Connecticut Open in August, capturing the China Open just two weeks ago.
"Everyone is mentioning how I'm the defending champion, but I don't feel quite that way. It's the WTA Finals, so it's a bit different than other tournaments because first you have to get here, and then you have to defend it! It's double the work! I obviously like playing on this court, and I felt very good today, but I was very nervous this year, maybe even more than last. I really wanted to show that we're playing well, and I'm happy because we did that!"
Seeded No.3 in Singapore, the Czechs took a set and 2-0 lead before things got more complicated in the middle of the second set. Martínez Sánchez won the WTA Finals back in 2009 alongside Nuria Llagostera Vives; with Klepac, the two used all their spins and slices to keep Sestini Hlavackova and Strycova guessing.
"It was good that we got the break right away, so we were up mentally and doing the right things all the time," Strycova said. "When we had 2-0, 40-0, and we didn't make it, it got a bit tricky out there. Still, we were leading by a break, so we thought we had to play the same, be active, and move our legs."
The French Open semifinalists ultimately found the answers, grabbing a long-awaited second break and served out their spot in the final four.
Awaiting them there will be either No.1 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova or Wimbledon finalists Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke. While Melichar represents the United States, she was born in Brno, Czech Republic, guaranteeing what Sestini Hlavackova deemed “all-Czech derby” in the semifinals.
"We already practiced with Bara and Katka a few days ago, and that's when we realized that we would have to make different signals and talk more quietly, because they'll understand what we're saying!"