Eleven titles together, unbeaten in 30 matches - the Sania Mirza-Martina Hingis juggernaut rolls on. Turns out it wasn’t a world record, but Mirza and Hingis winning 30 matches on-the-trot - the longest winning streak in women's doubles since 1994 - is testimony to their tremendous performance over the last several months.
The Indo-Swiss pair haven't lost a single match since last August, won 10 WTA doubles titles together including two Grand Slam in 2015 and the coveted year-end WTA championship, and are currently the number one team in women's doubles, a feat made even more remarkable by the fact that the duo started playing together less than a year ago.
Playing in the finals of the Sydney International on Friday, the pair came back from one set down to clinch the tie-breaker and emerge as winners with a 1-6 7-5 10-5 scoreline.
The took a similar route to beat Romanian Raluca Olaru and Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova to 4-6, 6-3, 10-8 in the semifinals on Thursday to break the record set by Puerto Rican Gigi Fernandez and Belarus' Natasha Zvereva back in 1994, the pair that won 15 Grand Slams together.
The last time a team won more matches in a row was back in 1990 when Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova won 44 in a row together which included 4 Grand Slams. However, contrary to all the world record speculation doing the rounds, the ultimate record belongs to the once invincible pair of Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver won 109 consecutive matches and all the four Slams during their dream run 1984.
Judging by their recent run, which includes eleven titles ahead of Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year, 'Santina', as the duo refer to themselves on social media, may well be on the way to a third Slam and eye more records.
Women's doubles has seen few dominant and consistent teams in recent times, the names that come to mind immediately are the Williams sisters, Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, Hsieh Su-wei and Peng Shuai. and Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci who had notched up 25 consecutive wins in 2012. However at present Mirza-Hingis seem to be in a league of their own.
After playing with different partners in the first few months of 2015, Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis came together in March 2015. The then world no six, Mirza began 2015 with Chinese Taipei’s Hsieh Su-wei at Brisbane and later paired up with former partner American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, with whom she won the Sydney International. (Incidentally, they beat the second-seeded pair of Martina Hingis and Flavia Pennetta in the quarters.)
It was only in March that Mirza then ended her partnership with Hsieh Su-wei and joined forces with Hingis. The Indo-Swiss pair entered Indian Wells as top seeds and went on to win the title on debut, not losing more than four games in any set. There was no looking back after that as they went on to win titles at Miami, Charleston, Wimbledon, US Open, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Beijing and the WTA Finals.
It's not always that a recently partnered team enjoys such instant connection and success. Remember, Vinci-Erranni parting ways last year, after their great doubles run. The Italians had finished at No 1 for three years, but they haven't played together since their shock loss at Fed Cup and chose to focus on their Singles careers.
"We invested lots of energy, both mental and physical, to achieve our goals, which we are very proud of, therefore we now feel the need to rest and catch our breath. It's our common purpose to start new individual career paths and set brand new goals to try to reach. Also for you to enjoy and take pride in as still the world No.1 doubles pair, and grateful for the time we had together," they had said in a statement early last year.
But with Sania and Martina, it's the other way around. Both have enjoyed a good singles career: Hingis was a bona fide superstar and Mirza was India's most successful female tennis player even before her current golden run. However age and injuries forced both to give singles up and capitalise on doubles in order to prolong their career and trophies list. As an earlier Firstpost article pointed out, "No two women have enjoyed a greater renaissance in modern tennis, as have Martina and Sania. They seem eager to decorate their partnership with unabated success."
For a fairly recent partnership, 'Santina' have fantastic bonding, as is evident from their success. If you are not convinced, just look at their social media feed. In Hingis' own words, it's their camaraderie that clicks.
"The chemistry is amazing. We don't always play super tennis, but we come out and find a solution. I think that's what makes us right now the best doubles in the world. It's not like because we been winning so much we take it for granted really. We try every time. We're the hunted. Everyone plays their best against us, and we have to keep playing our best as well to win," she said after their 29th victory in the semis at Sydney.
And as she rightly pointed out, they will be a marked team this season. Apart from another Slam and more records in sight, as the pair finish a year together, they will also have to be deal with the the rigours of matches and challenging schedules, as they look to win more titles. There will be unprecedented pressure on these two to keep up this form and the task becomes one of mental toughness, as much as skills on the court with every passing tournament. And with this being the year of the Olympics, there will be an added pressure on both players, who are crucial to their respective country's medal chances, to keep up their ranking.
Like all winning streaks, this one will end sometime as well as Mirza admitted herself in Sydney this week. The challenge for the pair will be to stay in the moment and take it one game at a time.
But if they can continue the 'Santina' bonding we have seen so far, both on and off court, their stocks will continue to rise and translate to a winning momentum this season.