WTA Finals 2016

Tennis: Translating grit, spirit into victory

Courtcraft and off-court rapport are crucial factors as Makarova, Vesnina capture doubles title

Very little is lost in translation between Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina. The fourth-seeded Russians, partners since 2012, also have each other's backs when they are off the court.

After they won the doubles crown at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global yesterday, beating third seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, there was further proof of their rapport.

Not only were they finishing each other's sentences at the media conference, Vesnina even translated a question from English to Russian for Makarova's benefit.

It was this seamless approach that carried the Olympic gold medallists over the line yesterday, even though they failed to convert four break points in the sixth game of the second set.

Chuckling as she recalled the game, Vesnina said: "I remember that game really well because all the break points were on me and I didn't even win one.

Fourth seeds Ekaterina Makarova (foreground) and Elena Vesnina celebrate after beating third seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 in the doubles final yesterday. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

"But it's actually quite a common situation, when somebody is winning all the returns and the other just cannot return the ball. So I was saying to (Makarova), 'Sorry, I will return the next one'."

The Russians, who dethroned defending WTA Finals champions Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis en route to the final, found themselves serving to stay in the first set despite being up a break.

A first-set tie-break went in the Russians' favour after Mattek-Sands netted a forehand.

The fourth seeds' steady defending helped them overcome Mattek-Sands' aggressive net play, and a service winner from Makarova finally gave them the victory.

America's Mattek-Sands and the Czech Republic's Safarova remained in good spirits despite their loss, smiling and joking as they spoke to the media after the match.

"It's been a great season this year; we won four events," said Safarova, bumping fists with her partner.

"It's always a pleasure to play with Bethanie. On and off the court we have a lot of fun; I think that's the most important."

Despite losing to their opponents for the first time in three encounters, Safarova gave credit to Vesnina and Makarova, saying: "It was a good fight from both sides.

"The other team played really well today, they served out really well and were playing aggressive. We gave our best and unfortunately it didn't work out."

Smiling, she added: "But Team Bucie will be back strong again in the next season."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Translating grit, spirit into victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe