WUHAN, China - A doubles team that came together as a happy accident is leaving the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open with a big trophy.
No. 8 seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Duan Ying-ying captured the first Premier 5 title of their individual careers with a 7-6(3), 6-2 win over No. 2 seeds and US Open champions Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka in Saturday's final.
The Russian and the Chinese were 0-5 in doubles finals this season combined, and never played a tournament together, but each walk away from Wuhan with their first title of the year after coming together to play at the last minute.
Duan, a three-time runner-up this season, including at the French Open with Zheng Saisai, was set to play once more with her compatriot in Wuhan before the San Jose singles champion was forced to withdraw prior to the event.
"When I came here, Ying-ying need to play with another person. She texted me [that] she's not coming. I found Ying-ying," Kudermetova said.
"I [did] not know her well. I knew in the draw she plays with Saisai. I text her. I say, 'If you want to, we try to play together.' She say, 'Yeah, yeah, try.'
"I think we did a great job during the whole week. I was very happy to play with her this week. Maybe we play next time also together. It's an unbelievable week."
For the week, the pair won their last eight sets, after coming from a set down to beat the Dutch pairing of Kiki Bertens and Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove in the opening round, 3-6, 7-5, 10-7.
Following a second-round walkover from Simona Halep and Raluca Olaru, they beat Nadiia Kichenok and Abigail Spears in the quarterfinals, and Makoto Ninomiya and Yang Zhaoxuan in the semifinals, before ending the nine-match winning streak of the US Open champions.
"She's a powerful player. On court, we both focus on our offense, so we play an aggressive game," added Duan.
"I didn't think a lot because we needed some time to get to know each other. It's beyond my expectations that we did really well this week."
The pair's victory denied Sabalenka a chance to sweep both Wuhan titles after her singles triumph over Alison Riske earlier in the day.
The first 12 games of the final went with serve, as each pair was forced to save two break points in a trio of games.
The No. 8 seeds were first to avoid a potential deficit, saving two break points to hold for 3-3, before Mertens and Sabalenka each erased two break points to stay ahead, at 4-4 and 5-5.
It was the first-time team that started the better of the two in the tiebreak, winning the first four points and six of the first seven, en route to taking a one-set lead.
"I think we tried to play very aggressive, not to do some very strict thing, play aggressive, good serves, try to play good volleys. Try to play our game," continued the Russian.
"Also, Aryna had, every day many, many matches. She's little bit tired. We try to play more on Aryna. I think [they're a] good team. They had a really good week here, and during this season. They play so well."
In the second set, Duan and Kudermetova again erased two break points early, holding serve to lead 2-1, and won the last four games to seal the upset.
"I enjoyed playing here at Wuhan. I come every year. I like the fans here," said Duan.
"They're very passionate. Every time we play, we see fans cheering for us. I like that. That will bring me much positive energy. I enjoy everything here at Wuhan."
The doubles triumph capped a successful week for Kudermetova overall, as she also reached the round of 16 out of qualifying in singles, scoring her first career Top 10 victory over Belinda Bencic along the way.
On Monday, the 22-year-old will sit at a career-high ranking in both singles and doubles, and will crack the Top 25 in the doubles ranks.
"I have really good matches here. I played against Belinda, not first time. Last time, I lost to her. Now, she's a Top 10 player. When I step on the court, I try to do my best tennis," she said.
"After that I won the match, I was so happy. The week here for singles and for doubles, it's very good."