ROME, Italy -- The unseeded duo of Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty earned their first WTA doubles title as a team at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Sunday, as the Belarusian/Australian tandem fought back to clinch a 4-6, 6-0, [10-3] final victory over No.8 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands.
"There were ebbs and flows a little bit, a few momentum changes in the match," Barty said, after the match. "But I think that the way we started the second set, in particular, we were able to keep the foot down, keep the momentum going through the tiebreaker as well."
Azarenka concurred. "I feel like we started really well, [but] didn’t hold enough pressure, and they came back, played some points really strong," said the Belarusian. "We lost the first set, but I feel like it gave us a good lesson in the second set, where we really stepped it up, and kept going, and kept pushing until the end."
Barty and Schuurs won the Rome title together last year, but they were rivals on Sunday as they each tried to defend their title. It was Barty and her partner Azarenka who came up with the victory after 71 minutes of play, avenging a second-round loss to Groenefeld and Schuurs last week at the Mutua Madrid Open.
The week was truly a marathon effort for Azarenka and Barty, who won all five of their matches in a four-day span after Wednesday's total washout. The champions had to play both their second-round and quarterfinal matches on Friday, which was Azarenka's third match of that day after her singles quarterfinal loss to eventual champion Karolina Pliskova.
Azarenka and Barty got off to a hot start with aggressive play at the net and from the service line. They zoomed to a 3-0 lead, having broken the Groenefeld serve in the second game of the match after the German double faulted twice and fired a forehand error long on deciding point. But Barty double faulted on break point to cede the break back for 3-2, and the set turned.
Groenefeld used stunning crosscourt backhands to hold for 3-3, then she and Schuurs claimed their first lead of the match at 4-3, when Azarenka hit a backhand miscue into the net at the end of a long rally to drop her serve. Groenefeld closed out the set two games later with a love hold, as she and Schuurs won their fifth of the final six games of the set.
However, Azarenka and Barty were dominant in the second set. Strong returns from Azarenka helped them claim the first break of the set for 2-0, and Barty matched her partner with powerful returning of her own to claim the insurance break and lead 4-0. Groenefeld was unable to get her team on the board at 5-0, ending the set with back-to-back double faults.
The teams moved into the match tiebreak, where Azarenka and Barty took complete command. More incredible returning let them pick off Groenefeld's first two service points as they started with a 3-0 lead. A beautiful backhand by Azarenka set up a subsequent putaway by the Belarusian for a 5-1 lead at the first change of ends.
The eventual champions reached 7-3 after a scintillating all-court rally ended with a Barty volley winner, and two points later, six match points were attained following a superb, unreturned serve by Azarenka. Azarenka and Barty only needed one opportunity, as Groenefeld fired a return wide to give the Belarusian/Australian pairing the prestigious trophy.
The Azarenka/Barty tandem will have next week off from doubles action, then will reconvene in Paris to go for a Grand Slam title at the French Open. "I think we improve when we improve our singles, and then we come together and just have fun in doubles," Azarenka stated.