Solid advice from the 23-year-old but in fact, she had her eyes on her doubles partner Caroline Garcia long before they finally teamed up and took the 2016 tennis season by storm.
French pair, Mladenovic and Garcia – or Kiki and Caro as they are known to each other and to their fans – have emerged as one of the teams to beat in women’s doubles after joining forces nine months ago.
Since the start of the year, they’ve won four titles together from seven finals reached, in a stretch that saw them capture the Roland Garros doubles crown in Paris and finish as runners-up at the US Open last Sunday.
It comes as no surprise that they’ve already booked themselves a qualifying spot at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global and their final run in New York has seen them rise to the summit of the Road to Singapore Leaderboard this week, surpassing Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza.
With just five months separating them in age – Mladenovic is five months older – the Frenchwomen go way back.
They first teamed up for a doubles match representing France during a Fed Cup World Group II play-off tie against Kazakhstan in Besancon in April 2013 and while it took them almost three more years to pair up as a team on tour, Mladenovic always knew they’d make a good team.
“For me, to be frank, in my head or in my mind I was thinking about Caroline,” Mladenovic told reporters at Roland Garros this year, reflecting on that Fed Cup clash in Besancon.
“I said ‘she has the skills to play good tennis’, but at the beginning I knew it was not the right moment for us to play together. Each of us on our side had to grow (first).”
Mladenovic had more doubles experience than Garcia at the time but the team chemistry was evident even back then.
“It was my first Fed Cup so we really enjoyed this win. This is when we got to know one another. It was a splendid match. There was true osmosis,” recalls Garcia.
Fast forward to 2016 and Garcia and Mladenovic have formed one of the best partnerships in tennis.
On and off the court, they are quite different. Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, is quieter and less sociable than Mladenovic, who hails from Saint Pol sur Mer but has chosen Dubai as her adopted home.
Both are very athletic but Garcia’s game is more about power while Mladenovic has smooth hands and enjoys her tweeners as much as her shopping trips – which surely she will enjoy plenty of at the lavish malls of Singapore next month.
Garcia remembers being “so bad at the net” when she first started playing doubles, while Mladenovic had won two Grand Slam mixed doubles crowns before she turned 21.
“Sometimes we know that opposites get together and they attract each other,” is how Mladenovic explains why they work as a duo.
“There's something strong that has developed between both of us. It started a long time ago. We are exactly of the same generation. We are French. We've known each other for years.
“We have realized that both of us have high stakes, objectives, and dreams. We are not hiding them from one another. We are proud because we believe in our objectives. And also, the biggest coincidence, I think, is both of our teams, our two families.
“There is a human adventure in that. It's a project which, little by little, developed tennistically speaking on the courts, but also off courts in many things: the way we manage things, the way we share things. It's about organization. It's about mutual understanding. It's something very strong, and it works. Everything is a good match, more or less.”
Garcia agrees: “When we're on the court we have our families that share exactly the same values. We have more or less the same education. When we're on the courts we want to do our best, and we share so many things together.”
The pair have qualified for the WTA Finals in Singapore before, as they both made their debut there last year, but with different partners – Mladenovic with Timea Babos and Garcia with Katarina Srebtonik.
They feel that forming an all-French partnership has brought a special element to their career though, and it was particularly palpable when they won Roland Garros on home soil to become the first duo from France to win in Paris since 1971.
“When we were stepping out on the court together, we could feel ‘wow, people are coming to watch us’. I still get goose-bumps thinking about it,” Mladenovic told WTA Insider about their historic French Open run.
“Some matches, we played on Court 2, it was packed, and on Suzanne Lenglen for the semi-finals, we were like ‘wow, people are getting so involved for our doubles, women’s doubles’ - and it’s not part of the French culture to follow women’s doubles - and we really could feel the impact that people started to be interested, to want to follow us and support us. That was so enjoyable.”
While they both maintain that singles remains their priority – both are ranked inside the top-40 in singles – they can’t deny that their doubles partnership has brought them lots of attention back home and that triumphing in Paris is the highlight of their career so far.
Garcia, a two-time WTA title winner in 2016, said: “Winning a Grand Slam is something nobody will take away from you in your life. You've won it. Your name will be on the cup, as well. There were so many people on the central court. We got so much support.
“Winning a Grand Slam in France with another French player, Kristina, someone who I like very much and we have lived incredible things together, is something, which, for the time being, is above anything I have lived before.”
On her return to Singapore, Mladenovic added: “I’m very very excited to go back to Singapore for the second year in a row in doubles and this time with my countrywoman and team-mate Caro. It’s very nice to see that both of us we qualified again together, last year we were with different partners.
“It was one of our main goals this year when we joined forces. We have had so far a very solid year, it’s kind of a dream come true, to claim a grand slam title, especially on home soil at Roland Garros, that was definitely the highlight. And to qualify for Singapore, it’s such a big privilege because only the best of the best, so we’re very happy.”
Quick hits with Kiki and Caro
- Kiki tells WTA Insider that Caro is a big ‘Minions’ fan and her favourite Minions item are a pair of flip-flops.
- Both did other sports as children, Kiki was good at volleyball like her mother, while Caro did basketball and dancing alongside tennis.
- Caro is coached by her father Louis Paul while Kiki is coached by her brother Luka (who is also a football player) and George Goven.
- Kiki and Caro don’t go out to dinners together because their time is tight on tour, but they can get carried away chatting to each other for hours in the locker room.
- If Caro had gone to college she would have studied languages. She speaks “English, French and half Spanish”.
- Kiki owns 16 doubles titles.
Merci de m'avoir permis de participer au WTA rising Star Invitational grace a vos nombreux votes! 3 victoires, mais pas le plateau du vainqueur. Mais des magnifiques souvenirs, des progres et une tres belle experience! #TeamGarcia #FlyWithCaroG Thank you to let me have the chance to play the WTA RISING STAR invitational with all your votes... 3 wins but no the winner trophy. But some wonderful memories, some improvement and a great experience! check my facebook post https://www.facebook.com/carolinegarciaofficial/posts/1004595442936362 @wtarisingstars @wta #TeamGarcia #FlyWithCaroG @wtafinalssg @nikecourt
- Caro was in Singapore for two reasons last year, playing the WTA Rising Stars event as well as featuring in doubles with Srebotnik.
Catch the French duo Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global happening this 23 - 30 October. Get your tickets now!