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Black on Top, Wins WTA Doubles Final with Mirza

By: Jane Voigt

It was a day marked with firsts and lasts as the WTA Final’s doubles championship match kicked off in the city-state of Singapore on Sunday. Chinese Taipei’s Hsieh Su-wei and China’s Peng Shuai vied to win back-to-back titles in their last match as a team, after a two-year partnership. Cara Black of Zimbabwe and India’s Sania Mirza had never been to the WTA Finals as a team, though Black is a well-recognized honoree at this level of competition, having qualified 10 consecutive years (2000-2009), winning two titles (2007, 2008) alongside Liezel Huber. This, too, would be Black’s and Mirza’s last match.

The stakes were high for the four women, both personally and professionally. With all the fanfare and publicity swirling about the Asian pair approaching a crossroad, the match initially took on the feel of an historic aggressive exhibition. Things took a quick turn as the sentimental favorites displayed some of their worst tennis of the year. They lost the match in a little over an hour to Black and Mirza, 6-1 6-0, who ran off 12 consecutive games to clinch.

“We’ve lost to them in a couple finals,” Mirza told the WTA on court. “It’s not over until it’s over; they always come back.” Their opponents were 12-0 in finals coming into today’s match. Their 2014 resume also includes doubles titles in Doha, Indian Wells, and Roland Garros. The pair also won Wimbledon in 2013.

From the first ball, Black and Mirza had the upper hand. They positioned themselves perfectly, working off each other like well-practiced dance partners. Mirza commanded the baseline with forceful groundstrokes off both wings, while Black skittered around the net and connected skillfully with volleys and overheads.

“Very happy to finish [the] year and partnership like this,” Mirza told the crowd.

“It’s been unique,” Black added, again with the WTA on court. “We started with a bang and ended with a bang.”

Mirza and Black came from triple match-point down in their semifinal over the Czech/Slovenian pairing of Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik, 46 75 11-9, to earn their spot in the final. The newly crowned champions also saved a match point in their opening round.

“[We were] down match point in first match,” Mirza said, at the awards’ presentation. “It gave us another chance. You have to keep fighting. The crowd here has been amazing. Thank you so much, you guys.”

Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai rolled over their semifinal opponents, Alla Kudryavtseva and Anatasia Rodionova, 6-1, 6-4. The team’s confidence was not in short supply, then, as they approached the day’s work. Nerves could have played a roll in their demise. However, the dominance of Mirza and Black upset the balance of expectations.

“Well, we can’t win everything,” Hsieh said. “But, we’re proud of what we did last year and this year.”

“We wish to play better,” Peng added. “But, it didn’t work. Thanks to my partner for two years of memories.”

Mirza and Black were presented with the inaugural Martina Navratilova Trophy. The woman who won 177 doubles titles, and 59 major titles — Martina Navratilova — was on hand. She also holds 8 doubles titles from this event alone, the first won in 1980 alongside Billie Jean King.

As the American walked in the stadium and along the carpeting to the main presentation area, she high-fived luxuriously dressed women who acted as welcoming ambassadors.

“I love this tournament,” Peng said, in a soft voice. “Love to have Chinese here.”

Her nod to her nation’s citizens – Hsieh is from Taipei – echoed throughout the week. This was the first time the WTA Finals had staged their end-of-year tournament in Asia, let alone Singapore. It plans to present the tournament for the next five years in the same locale.

“As an Asian, to be here with two other Asians,” Mirza began, “I hope this does so much more for Asian tennis.”

Neither champions nor finalists failed to fill the Singapore Stadium with heartfelt sentiments about their partnerships.

“We’ve built a friendship,” Black said of Mirza. “It’s sad, but it’s great also. We’ll always have these moments to share.”

“I’d like to thank Cara,” Mirza said. “Our last month. Maybe she’ll make another comeback. It’s been an absolute honor to play with her.”

Black ends her season with an uncertain future, as she balances motivation to continue with plans to expand her family. Her husband and coach, Brett Stephens, have a 3-year-old daughter. Should this be her final act, Black exits today with a total of 60 career titles. She has played on tour for over 20 years and is 35, the eldest stateswoman on court.

Mirza will partner with Hsieh in 2015, although news is not official about Peng. Sources believe she will concentrate on her burgeoning singles’ career. She was a surprise semifinalist at the U. S. Open in September.

Black and Mirza bankrolled $250,000 USD each, and will split 1500 in ranking points. It’s a far cry from the earnings promised the singles finalists. Winner Serena Williams and runner-up Simona Halep will earn $2,047,000 and $971,000, respectively, plus 1340 rankings points and 890 ranking points each.

But the money and points probably mattered less than the relationships forged and the memories made for the doubles’ finalists, now that the week has come to a close. As an addition for them, the tournament presented bouquets of orchids. The use of orchids in this city-state is a tradition for special occasions, but this was the first time the flower was used in a sporting event. The particular orchid presented — Dendrobiums — will now be named for the women.

This was the 44th staging of the WTA World Finals. It was an ‘enhanced’ version of years past, expanding from a 4-team draw to an 8-team draw. And although Mirza and Black took the title, the year-end accolades for the number one team go to Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the number-one seeds in Singapore. The pair had to retire in their quarterfinal round due to a rib injury suffered by Errani.

Check out highlights from the match:


Follow Jane on Twitter @downthetee!

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