Miami Open 2021: Ashleigh Barty shows herself a worthy No1 with her 10th title
Barty dominated Bianca Andreescu until the Canadian retired injured after a second-set fall
Much has been made since this year’s Australian Open of the residency of Ashleigh Barty at No1 in the rankings.
She and Naomi Osaka had held the top spot between them for over two years, but Barty took over in September 2019 after a stunning run that included titles at the French Open and the Miami Premier Mandatory.
It did not stop there: she won the end-of-year WTA Finals, made the semi of the Wuhan Open and the final at the China Open.
She started 2020 just as strongly, winning Adelaide, making the semis of the Australian Open, and the semis of Doha, and then everything stopped—for everyone. The Coronavirus pandemic halted tennis and much else around the world, and the rankings were frozen.
The brakes came off the tour with the US Open series, though players were given the option to stay away. And with Barty based in Australia, where strict lockdown and quarantine conditions ensured one of the lowest infection rates in the world, the world No1 stayed away, and stayed away until the tour returned to her home turf this January, though still with super-strict quarantine conditions in place.
Along the way, during Barty’s absence, Osaka had played and won the US Open—though nothing for the rest of 2020—and then the Australian Open. But by the time the brakes came off the rankings, Barty was back and winning. Indeed, with plenty of time spent on her training and fitness during those long months in Australia, Barty looked as trim, fast and accurate as ever.
She won the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne, reached the Australian quarters, then left home shores for the first time in a year to begin the defence of her Miami title. Here, at last, Osaka could take back the No1 ranking, but that depended on the Japanese star reaching the final and Barty falling short—and the fresh, revitalized Aussie showed throughout Miami’s huge draw that she was in no mood to do that.
By the time she faced another revitalized player, the 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who had missed an entire year from before the pandemic until Melbourne this January due to injury, Barty had played two other former Major champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka, plus No5 and No8 in the world, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka.
Before that, her first match in Miami, after a tortuous journey from Australia, tested her fitness and resolve: She saved match-point against Kristina Kucova, and went from strength to strength to reach this first meeting with fellow Major champion, Andreescu.
That Barty had spent three hours less on court than the Canadian may ultimately become significant, given how events unfolded. Andreescu played four straight three-setters, the last of which against Maria Sakkari lasted two and three-quarter hours—and into the early hours.
Certainly Barty looked spritely and focused from the off, breaking for 2-0, but Andreescu broke back, only to face more break points in the sixth game, and a backhand winner from the Australian reclaimed the lead, 4-2.
Andreescu held with a strong service game for 5-3, and then had the Australian at deuce as Barty served for the set. But the top seed retained control with smart tactics, perfectly executed—precise serves, inch-perfect baseline strikes, and nimble finishing. She took the set 6-3 in under 40 minutes.
The Canadian seemed ill at ease in the breezy conditions as she opened serve in the second set. Barty probed the corners, varied the spin, and got to break point again, and her opponent double faulted for the second time to concede the first game.
Barty remained efficient on serve and on both wings, a quick hold sending the pressure straight back to Andreescu. But now, the Canadian tripped and fell mid game, though initially she seemed unhurt.
However, Barty swung her opponent from side-to-side with slice, acute angles, and deft touch. She worked more breaks with carefully crafted forehands, overheads and volley redirections, and converted for a 3-0 lead.
Andreescu called for the trainer to work on her turned foot, and it was heavily taped before she took to the court again. But it was soon clear that things were amiss, and after a Barty hold, the Canadian bowed her head and walked to the net to concede the match, 4-0, after little more than an hour.
As Barty said in the immediate aftermath, “It’s brutal. It’s never the way you want to win a tennis match.”
She went on: “I feel for Bianca because she has had a lot of injuries, and I hope it doesn’t hamper her season too much.”
Andreescu will rise back to No6 in the ranks, though that will be small consolation as the clay season, and the opportunity for big ranking points, beckons. It is less than a month until the big WTA1000s in Madrid and Rome hit the tour, though it is fair to say that clay is not her preferred surface. In contrast, clay, and then grass, suit the all-court variety and easy movement of Barty very nicely.
Since the start of 2019, Barty has won seven of the nine finals she has contested, and 16 of her 22 matches against top-10 opposition over the same span. And she seems only to be getting better in every part of her game.
Even without those frozen 20 weeks that could not be added to her tally, she will be up to 70 weeks at the top come Easter Monday—and it is hard to see anyone overtaking this worthy No1 any time soon.