MIAMI, March 30, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
When Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty square off in the final of the Miami Open presented by Itaú on Saturday afternoon inside Hard Rock Stadium – the stadium within a stadium – it will be the fifth time they have faced each other in a tour-level match. Each has won twice. However, this time the stakes are high. The title of a WTA Premier Mandatory, which is just one level below a Grand Slam, is up for grabs.
Both the No. 5 seed Pliskova from the Czech Republic and No. 12 Barty of Australia came through their rain-plagued semifinals on Thursday unscathed and seem ready and fit to do battle. Pliskova, whose semifinal against World No. 2 Simona Halep didn’t finish until after 1 a.m. Friday morning, has become a familiar night-time presence at this year’s Miami Open. She endured a couple of late-night battles against Alizé Cornet and Yulia Putintseva just to reach the semifinals opposite Halep.
“I have been running a lot this week with all those girls and I made it to a lot of dropshots. So I think I’m ready for some running, for some defense, as well,” Pliskova said at her early morning post-match press conference, as quoted by the WTA website, following her 7-5, 6-1 win over Halep. The loss kept the Romanian from reclaiming the World No. 1 ranking.
“Of course the confidence, it helps so much. You know, when you win couple matches, then you just see the ball without even practicing or without even thinking about it. So, I think it all is because of the matches.”
Meanwhile, Barty spent some of her rain delay downtime earlier Thursday by consuming plenty of coffee and watching pro golf on TV inside the locker room. On Friday, she teamed with Victoria Azarenka and played in a doubles semifinal, but the duo came out on the losing side, falling to Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka, 7-6 (6), 7-5.
Looking back on her 6-3, 6-3 semifinal win over No. 21 seed Anett Kontaveit, Barty said during her post-match press conference that she’s been proud of both herself and her team “for trusting the process and enjoying the journey.”
By reaching the final, Barty is assured of breaking into the Top 10 at No. 9 next week.
“I think we have had some amazing opportunities on the court to do some pretty special things,” said Barty, who is playing in her first Premier Mandatory final.
“I think now we have another opportunity … to go out there and try and play a really good match. Obviously it’s another chance at a title. Really excited to be in this position.”
Pliskova has much respect for Barty, and although she won their most recent meeting at last year’s U.S. Open, 6-4, 6-4, during the round of 16, she’s taking nothing for granted.
“I think she has a completely different style than the girls I’ve played,” Pliskova said. “She’s also trying to go for some winners. She has a slice backhand, she has a good serve, she can move pretty well on the court, so she understands the game well, I think.
“So it’s going to be not only about me this time, which, actually now a lot of matches were about me more. So I need to accept when she’s playing well, and I know I can beat her. I played great in New York against her, so I try to repeat it.”
Mertens and Sabalenka alive for Sunshine Double
Playing in just their third tournament together, Elise Mertens of Belgium and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus kept their hopes alive to achieving a Sunshine Double (winning both Indian Wells and Miami in the same calendar year). On Friday, in the first doubles semifinal, Mertens and Sabalenka beat wild cards Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty, 7-6 (6), 7-5. Earlier this month, Mertens and Sabalenka won the BNP Paribas Open title in Indian Wells.
— Miami Open (@MiamiOpen) 29. März 2019
In the other semifinal, No. 6 seeds Sam Stosur and Zhang Shuai defeated Hao-Ching Chan and Latisha Chan, 6-7 (6), 7-5, 10-5. The Chan sisters came in to the match with an impressive 23-4 win-loss record, including two titles (Doha and Hobart) and a quarterfinal finish at the Australian Open.
“We played a really good, quality match,” Stosur said during an on-court interview afterward. “It was really close. I’m glad we got through this one.
“We kept trying to play our game. When we play hard, we play our best.”
Earlier this year, Stosur and Zhang won the Australian Open doubles, beating No. 1 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova and No. 2 seeds and defending champions Times Babos and Kristina Mladenovic en route to the title. They’re 10-1 this year.
The doubles final is scheduled for Sunday afternoon not before 3 p.m., following the men’s singles final between No. 4 seed Roger Federer and No. 7 seed John Isner, which begins at 1 p.m.
What they’re tweeting
Teen sensation Bianca Andreescu, recent winner of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, returned home to Canada following her fourth-round loss at the Miami Open. On Friday, she was a guest at Toronto FC’s MLS football match at BMO Field, where she delivered the match ball. Andrescu (@Bandreescu_) tweeted:
— Bianca (@Bandreescu_) 30. März 2019
• Going into Saturday’s Karolina Pliskova-Ashleigh Barty final, the first 13 WTA tournaments this year have been won by different players. According to the WTA, it’s the first time this has happened. If Barty prevails over Pliskova, the streak continues. However, if Pliskova wins, the streak will be broken as she lifted the trophy at Brisbane back in January.
• This is Pliskova’s first Miami Open final. Win or lose, she’s guaranteed of rising in the WTA rankings to No. 4 next week.
• Fingers crossed: The weather forecast for the Miami Open final on Saturday calls for bright sunshine and a high of 79º Fahrenheit (26º Celsius), with a chance of scattered showers.