MIAMI, March 29, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
The Miami Open presented by Itaú has been a breakthrough tournament for both Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Annet Kontaveit of Estonia. Kontaveit’s confidence in her ability to beat top-level competition has lifted the No. 21 seed into the Top 20, where she will move to No. 14 in the WTA rankings next week. As for Barty, she secured her debut in the Top 10 after beating Petra Kvitova to reach her first Premier Mandatory semifinal. She will move up to No. 9.
Barty’s all-court game has served her well during the Miami fortnight and, certainly, the No. 12 seed is no stranger when it comes to playing semifinals. Prior to facing Kontaveit, she’s been in 11 of them, compiling a 7-4 win-loss record. On Thursday night at Hard Rock Stadium, Barty’s experience paid off as she beat Kontaveit, 6-3, 6-3, in a rain-plagued encounter to advance to Saturday afternoon’s championship match against No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova, who defeated No. 2 seed Simona Halep in straight sets early Friday morning.
“Obviously, the weather is something that we can’t control, and a little bit frustrating that a couple of times we got on, it was a pretty quick shower straightaway,” Barty explained during her post-match press conference. The Barty-Kontaveit tilt started in mid afternoon after a one-hour rain delay but didn’t finish until evening had set in.
In a short match – just 77 minutes – that took about six and one-half hours to complete due to numerous rain delays, Barty reached her second final of 2019 with her win against Kontaveit. However, in vying for her first WTA Premier Mandatory title, it will be her biggest final bar none.
Against Kontaveit, Barty won 83 percent (25 of 30) of her first-serve points, hit 13 winners and saved five of the seven break points she faced. Meanwhile, Kontaveit won less than 50 percent of her service points, hit just 11 winners against 33 unforced errors, and dropped her serve five times. By the time Barty aced Kontaveit for match point, she had outpointed her opponent 63-46.
— WTA (@WTA) 28. März 2019
Following her victory, Barty told ESPN’s Rennae Stubbs during her on-court interview that she drank coffee and watched pro golf on TV during the lengthy rain delays. “You just have to try and sit back and kind of make the most of the time you have off the court and know that once you do get back on, you have to switch on straightaway.”
Indeed, while the 22-year-old Barty has let her tennis do the real talking this week, the Aussie with a smile is always failingly polite during interviews. “I’m so proud of myself and my team for trusting the process and enjoying the journey,” she said. “I think we have had some amazing opportunities on the court to do some pretty special things.”
Barty has dropped just two sets through her first matches, one to Kiki Bertens in the round of 16 and the other to Kvitova in the quarterfinal round. She’s won seven of her past eight matches, losing only to Elina Svitolina in the round of 16 at Indian Wells. She’s put herself in the right position to play for a title.
Looking ahead to the Miami final, Barty has a 2-2 win-loss record against Pliskova. “A tough one,” she admitted. “Obviously, I would expect nothing else.”
Journey going well for Mertens and Sabalenka
Both Elise Mertens of Belgium and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus are Top 20-caliber singles players. However, when paired together as they have been since the Australian Open, they’re nearly unbeatable (10-1) in doubles, and currently are ranked No. 5 in the WTA Doubles Porsche Race to Shenzhen.
Earlier this month, Mertens and Sabalenka lifted the first of what could be many trophies together by winning the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Their journey to capture the Sunshine Double, by also winning the Miami Open, has gone well thus far with three solid wins. What’s amazing is that they’re just playing their third tournament together as a team.
“We’ll have fun, eat everything like ice creams and sweets!” said Sabalenka about their off-court activities, as quoted by WTATennis.com. On the court, however, there’s a nice balance of seriousness mixed with fun. “I just agree with everything she says. This is the good part of doubles, that you can sit there, say nothing, and just agree with your partner!”
According to Mertens, it’s taken time for her and Sabalenka to mesh, but it’s been rewarding, too. “In Australia when we first played together, it was a question of ‘When do we switch?’ If she hits a good shot, or if I do, what do we do next? Those were key things, and now we really know each other’s’ games well, and we know when to switch.
“You’re trying to win, and you try to play these matches. As a team, standing there every match is important.”
On Wednesday, Mertens and Sabalenka beat 2017 Miami Open champions Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yi-Fan, 6-2, 6-2. Now, as Mertens and Sabalenka get ready to face unseeded wild cards Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty in the semifinal round on Friday afternoon, they are two wins away from becoming the first team since Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza in 2015 to win the Sunshine Double.
“They both are really good, aggressive, with good serves from Barty especially,” said Sabalenka about their semifinal opponents. “They’re great players, so it’ll be an interesting one, actually. I’m really looking forward to playing against them.”
What they’re tweeting
Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty have been a formidable doubles team, advancing to the Miami Open semifinals after receiving a wild card into the main draw. Both are fans favorites, too. After their 6-1, 6-3 quarterfinal win over Daria Jurak and Raluca Olaru on Wednesday, it prompted Vika (@vika7) to tweet this thought:
When we won our match today I thought the score was 5:2 in the second set. So after match point, Ash looks at me and goes: well done mate and gives me a hug. And I was like what do you mean I still gotta serve for the match 😂 😂 😂
— victoria azarenka (@vika7) 28. März 2019
Women’s singles semifinals
No. 12 Ashleigh Barty d. No. 21 Anett Kontaveit, 6-3, 6-3
No. 5 Karolina Pliskova d. No. 2 Simona Halep, 7-5, 6-1
Today’s order of play
Women’s doubles semifinals
Both matches on Stadium
WC-Victoria Azarenka/Ashleigh Barty vs. Elise Mertens/Aryna Sabalenka, second match from 1 p.m.
No. 8 Hao-Ching Chan/Latisha Chan vs. No. 6 Sam Stosur/Zhang Shuai, second match from 7 p.m.