From Paris straight to Manchester, the work never stops for Hungary’s trailblazing Timea Babos.
Just three days ago, the 26-year-old (above left) was celebrating her maiden Roland-Garros triumph in the women’s doubles, a victory that alleviated the pain of losing the previous two Grand Slam finals and one that further wrote her name into her country’s sporting folklore.
But Babos is a tenacious character, jet setting straight to a city that means so much to her family and seeking to build on her success with the countdown to Wimbledon well underway.
“My whole family are massive United fans and it’s my first time here in Manchester!” she told MM on a rain-affected day at the Manchester Trophy earlier this week.
“I have to make sure I go to the stadium – I looked on the way here at what to do and I know it’s a great city and there are many things to explore.
“I’ve seen that there are some great opportunities and some good places to go, so maybe if the weather is like this today I’ll have time to look around a bit!”
The purpose of Babos’ visit is not solely for sightseeing, however. Indeed, she arrives in Manchester with the intention of achieving further glory, this time in a singles competition and on the grass courts of the Northern Lawn Tennis Club in an ITF W100 event.
And her singles game is one thing Hungary’s only Grand Slam winner or world number one is eager to improve on, seeking to use her doubles success as a springboard for an upturn in her fortunes.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit with my singles – I haven’t been this low ranked for a long time,” she reflected.
“I guess this is just part of tennis and part of life, so I’m working hard to get back to where I was before or hopefully even higher.
“This is why I step on court everyday – I try to work hard and be motivated.
“I think the doubles is helping my singles, and the opposite as well, and I just really enjoy playing tennis and try to do my best each day.”
Babos’ singles ranking has plummeted from a career-best No.25 in 2016 to a lowly No.138 over the past three years, a decline in form that sees her enter this week’s tournament in West Didsbury without a seeding.
That she is so determined to enhance her singles performances in light of recent successes in the doubles format – where she is currently ranked No.3 – is testament to her steeliness, an attribute that becomes visible when speaking to the vivacious player.
But the two-time Grand Slam champion remains humble, reflecting on her modest roots in the Hungarian city of Sopron and hoping her latest triumph will stimulate greater participation in tennis among many young people in the country.
TENNIS OVER SWIMMING
“I hope my success can inspire more kids to get into the sport,” she said.
“I always try to give back at the club where I practise and to my town where I grew up and to try and help the kids to get better and to get more involved in tennis.
“It’s really different if I have to compare Hungary to England – here you have all the facilities and all the chances to be better and become better, while in Hungary we didn’t even have hard courts until recently.
“I’m just really pleased that from such a small city in Hungary and from such a small tennis country that I made it, and I’m happy to represent Hungary.”
Babos’ tale is a poignant one, choosing tennis over swimming at a young age and having to travel to England to practise owing to her homeland’s lack of sufficient facilities.
And such a decision was a contentious one at the time, as she speaks openly about her sport’s ‘expensive’ nature and the reservations held by both her father and sister.
However, it has proved to be an unequivocally justified choice, culminating most recently in her glory alongside Kristina Mladenovic on the clay of Roland-Garros.
“Winning at Roland-Garros was an amazing experience,” she said.
“First of all, to play with Kiki is always amazing – she’s my best friend and it’s really unique to share the court with your best friend, so I’m really happy about that.
“I’m just very happy with how we handled all the pressure over the two weeks, especially after losing the last two finals of the Grand Slams – it was amazing to finally get this one.”
But Babos’ attention now turns to the grass court season. With Wimbledon looming, she is seeking to go one better than her defeats experienced in SW19 finals in 2014 and 2016.
“If the weather clears up and I can get out on the courts it would be great – I really like to come back to England and I enjoy the grass as I think it’s so beautiful,” she said.
“It’s great to have some tournaments beside the WTA events because it’s a really short period of time and you want to get as many matches as possible before Wimbledon.
“I’m really happy with how the tournament is here and how nice the courts are – it’s really great quality.
“Hopefully this week is going to give me the perfect preparation for Wimbledon.”
If the north-western rain does eventually clear, crowds at The Northern will be treated to the pleasure of witnessing the decorated doubles champion in action.
First, though? That all-important trip to Old Trafford.
Image courtesy of Timea Babos via Instagram, with thanks.