Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Horia Tecau would have done themselves better by winning in straight sets on Sunday afternoon at the Australian Open. Horia had a plane to catch.
But the American-Romanian duo gave just enough time for celebration – and for Horia to make it home – following a 6-3, 5-7, 10-3 triumph in the mixed doubles final, beating the tough doubles pair of Leander Paes and Elena Vesnina.
“Leander and Elena, they are two good players,” Tecau said after the win. “They had to change it up in the second set because they saw that we have the momentum and things weren't going well for them. They had to do some changes, and that's how they got back into the match. So it's a good feeling to win it like this, the hard way.”
It was the first mixed title for the team in what was Mattek-Sands’s first-ever Grand Slam final and the third for Tecau. He was runner-up in men’s doubles in 2009 and 2010 at Wimbledon.
Tecau also felt validated in his win following a heartbreaking loss in the men’s doubles semifinals. He and Swede Robert Lindstedt fell in a third-set tiebreaker to the Bryan brothers.
“It's very rewarding to win the mixed title after losing that semifinal,” Tecau said. “But even though it was a very good tournament for me, even in the men's doubles, and I'm going to keep going forward from here.”
Mattek-Sands and Tecau began the match well, sprinting to a 4-1 lead in the first set. The Romanian doubles specialist closed out a 31-minute set by holding serve for 6-3.
It looked like the American-Romanian pair might run away with the match in the second set when they broke Vesnina’s serve outright and Mattek-Sands held for 2-0. But Paes, who has won six career mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, would hold serve after saving two break points for 1-2 in the second.
It was then the momentum shifted. After Tecau saved a break point for 4-2 in the second, a rain delay sidelined play for 10 minutes with Paes serving at 2-4, 40-30. With the roof closed and the court lit by the stadium lights, Paes hit a crosscourt forehand winner for 3-4 after the delay and then he and Vesnina broke Mattek-Sands with ease, drawing even at 4-4.
“Elena came up with some good volleys, because in the beginning we were kind of picking on her at net and she was missing a few,” Mattek-Sands said. “I think she made a few good shots and I didn't serve well on my first service game … I think we just needed to get some bugs out.”
Though Mattek-Sands and Tecau would fight to stay in the set, the writing was on the now-closed roof: Mattek-Sands fell 0-30 down on her serve and Paes rifled a down-the-middle volley on set point to draw even at one set all.
Mattek-Sands made up for a poor service game to open the match tiebreaker with a running down-the-line forehand winner that whizzed passed a flat-footed Vesnina. Tecau then nailed an ace and the American kissed a drop volley for a winner to grab a critical 3-0 lead.
There was no turning back for the eventual champs at this point. Tecau made good on a forehand volley winner for a 5-2 lead and then Mattek-Sands hit a forehand into the open court to gain an insurmountable 8-3 lead.
On their first championship point, Tecau swatted a forehand volley winner, he and Mattek-Sands hugging at midcourt to celebrate their first Grand Slam victory together.
It was just the second time that Mattek-Sands and Tecau have ever played together. At the Australian Open a year ago they fell in the semifinals.
“I actually didn't play mixed doubles after Australian Open last year,” Mattek-Sands said. “It's tough to play singles, doubles and mixed. It's a lot.”
Paes was attempting to be the first player since Rennae Stubbs in 2000 to win both the doubles and mixed doubles at the Australian Open. He won the men’s doubles title with Radek Stepanek on Saturday night. Bob Bryan was the last player to win both doubles and mixed doubles at any slam, winning both events at the 2010 US Open.
Mattek-Sands and Tecau have both collected nine doubles titles before earning their first mixed trophy in a Grand Slam event. To them, it’s the biggest achievement so far.
“It's a Grand Slam title,” Mattek-Sands surmised, smiling. “Yeah, it's top.”
There was no grandiose celebration that Tecau would be missing as he raced off to the airport, however, as Mattek-Sands said her camp was packing for a morning flight.
“We have big plans of packing,” Mattek-Sands said, laughing. “I go home tomorrow for a day and a half, and I fly to Paris for my next tournament.”
How will they make up for it?
“We'll just have to do it again,” Mattek-Sands concluded. “That's the plan.”