Barty Returns To Miami Open Final Playing Freely

Ashleigh Barty (photo: courtesy of WTA video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, April 2, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

With Elina Svitolina dominating her career head-to-head 5-1 against World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, the affable Aussie saw herself as an underdog coming into their Miami Open presented by Itaú semifinal match Thursday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium.

“It gives me the chance to go out there and play with freedom,” Barty told Tennis Channel‘s Prakash Amritraj during a post-match interview after she defeated the World No. 5 Svitolina, 6-3, 6-3, in one hour and 29 minutes under very cloudy skies to reach back-to-back Miami Open finals and extend her Miami Open winning streak to 11 straight.

Barty unleashed a hurricane of an attack that moved her into Saturday afternoon’s final against No. 8 seed Bianca Andreescu, who fought off No. 23 seed Maria Sakkari, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (4), in two hours and 42 minutes. The match, which started late Thursday evening due to an earlier rain delay, ended at 1:35 a.m. local time early Friday and advanced Andreescu to her first final since winning the 2019 US Open.

Remaining focused throughout both sets, Barty used her forehand and backhand weapons – slice and drop shots – effectively and with the element of surprise working in her favor. She put away the match on her serve, hitting an inside-in forehand winner that capped an 11-shot rally.

“I played her many times, actually, even when she just was starting to play well,” Svitolina said prior to their semifinal showdown. “Now, she’s No. 1. She improved a lot for the past three, four years. She’s been playing extremely high level.”

The top seed and defending champion Barty – she won the Miami Open the last time it was played in 2019 – rose to the occasion by hitting seven aces and 28 winners that more than offset her 28 unforced errors. However, Svitolina just didn’t put up enough of an offensive threat to Barty. She finished with only 11 winners while committing 34 unforced errors. She was able to only break Barty’s serve twice in seven tries while Barty was slightly more successful with five breaks in 14 opportunities. Barty outpointed Svitolina 73-55.

During her virtual press conference, Tennis TourTalk asked Barty if there was anything she could point to that was the difference between finally beating Svitolina for just the second time in seven matches and adding another loss to the ledger of defeats against the Ukrainian star.

“Yeah, each match that we have played I felt like it’s gotten closer and closer. Now the head-to-head is very slowly starting to improve,” she said.

“Elina is an exceptional competitor. She will never give you a free point. She’s proven that over an extended period. She’s been a Top 10 player for a very, very long time. It’s sometimes a bit of a fine line when you play her.”

Svitolina said after the match: “To be fair, it was a good match, all credit to Ash. She played some great pressure moments. I wish I could do a little bit better on my serve today, but she was holding the grounds very good and almost didn’t let me to come back really into the match.”

The bottom line according to Barty: “You have to be aggressive and you have to be able to take some risks. Knowing how good of a mover [Elina] is and how many balls she makes you play, you’re going to make errors. I think it’s just about kind of getting that fine line and getting that mix right.”

Hurkacz rallies to knock out No. 2 seed Tsitipas

If you’re a high-seeded player, the last one you want to be facing in the Miami Open is Hubert Hurkacz. After rallying from 2-6, 0-2 down and serving 15-40, then going on to defeat the No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, indeed, you really don’t want to be facing the talented Polish star who is unbeatable in Florida this year.

On Thursday afternoon, the 24-year-old Hurkacz won his third consecutive match against a seeded player – this time it was Tsitsipas, following the same predicament that befell first Denis Shapovalov, then Milos Raonic – with his 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over the World No. 5 from Greece.

After stringing together four straight wins to earn the title at the Delray Beach Open in January, Hurkacz has extended his unbeaten string in the Sunshine State with four more victories this fortnight to move into the semifinals against World No. 8 Andrey Rublev of Russia, seeded fourth this week in Miami, who fired his fifth ace of the match on his second match-point opportunity and beat unseeded No. 87 Sebastian Korda of the United States, the last standing of the Americans, 7-5, 7-6 (7). The loss ended another great run for the 20-year-old Korda, who earned his first Top 20 win of his career against Fabio Fognini and first Top 10 win over Diego Schwartzman and will  reach No. 64 when the ATP Rankings are updated next Monday.

Before Thursday, Hurkacz claimed just one victory in seven tries against Tsitsipas. This time, he fired 15 aces and broke the rising Greek star’s serve three times en route to achieving his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal berth.

I think I just try to like keep building my game, improving,” Hurkacz said during his virtual press conference. “Not all the times you’re gonna have the results that you want, but if you stay positive and if you improve your game, that’s gonna like help you. The results will eventually come.”

The question that was on everyone’s mind when Tsitsipas sat for his virtual press conference was what went wrong? How did Hurkacz escape from the jaws of defeat and gain a victory?

“Well, there were two factors,” Tsitsipas began to explain. “One, I didn’t manage to keep my serve, which is the most important thing at that point. I don’t even have to break anymore, just managing my serve. Didn’t happen.

“I don’t know whether that contributed to him hitting the line on that second breakpoint that I had to go up a double break. I think I would be going up 4-1, serving for 5-1, and he hit that forehand on the line which was quite extreme in the very corner of the court.

“So that was, like, probably little bit lucky from his side. I didn’t see that shot during the entire week, and it happened on that breakpoint.

“Yeah, I would probably say that. I think it would have been a completely different match if that shot landed out and not there, which was amazing from his side. Psychology would have changed.

“But, you know, serving, knowing that you’re 5-1 down, I feel like the opponent would be completely crushed. There would be zero hope for him. But still, I didn’t feel comfortable after that. Idon’t know. I felt like that was still somewhere in the back of my head, what a missed opportunity. I could have just completely, you know, punched him, knocked him out. But it was a bit unlucky for me, as well.”

Men’s doubles final is set

Thursday’s Miami Open results – WTA

Thursday’s Miami Open results – ATP

Friday’s Miami Open order of play

What they’re saying

• Stefanos Tsitsipas on what gives him the most joy as a tennis player:

“I feel like the challenge that you prove you’re better than anyone out there. It’s a very competitive job that I have. It all has to do with my own performance. If I don’t perform, I don’t get paid, I don’t proceed, I don’t get better at what I do.

“So, I feel like – I mean, I’m employed on my own, I’m self-employed, and that’s what I love about this. I get to choose when I work, where I work, and I think tennis is one of the best jobs in the world, playing tennis, making it for a living.

“The beauty of it is that being able to express yourself through your strokes and being able to showcase your personality in front of thousands, maybe even like millions of people everywhere around the world.”

• Bianca Andreescu on her victory over Maria Sakkari, spoken at her 3 a.m. press conference:

“I have a lot of experience in these tough three-setters and digging through and finding a way. Sometimes, I literally feel like I’m an octopus out there running side to side, I feel like I have eight legs. It’s insane. Sometimes, I don’t even know how I get to some shots. But it’s that fighting spirit I have always had in me, never giving up.

“Through experience you learn to find ways to deal with circumstances like this. It’s really showing. Me playing with my back against the wall really brings out my best tennis.”

Q & A with Ashleigh Barty

Tennis TourTalk: From watching you play, it seems no matter the circumstances, you always exude a sense of cool and calmness out on the court, showing the sense of confidence that everything is going to turn out okay in the end. My question is where does this sense of confidence come from? How do you learn it? How do you apply it especially the way that you have?

Ashleigh Barty: “Oh, I think the confidence, without a doubt, comes from the practice, the practice and the training, knowing that I have worked extremely hard with my team to refine my game. But I think almost the calmness, I suppose, and as you said almost seeming like everything will be okay in the end, I know that everything will be okay in the end.

‘It‘s not going to ruin my day whether I win a tennis match or not, and of course it’s disappointing, I want to try and be the best that I can be, and the competitor in me loves to win, but in saying that, the sun will always come up the next day. I mean, like you said, everything will turn out okay. It’s not just dependent on tennis results.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Andrey Rublev on Sebastian Korda: “Sebastian is a really great player. He’s really talented. He has big shots and he feels confident and he goes for them. Most of them he’s making it. So in the end, that’s why he’s great. He have a big serve. Really great at the net. He’s smart.

“And, yeah, he plays aggressive. He try to take the lead and go for the shots. That’s why he beat so many great players.”

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