Barty Wins Title And Porsche In Stuttgart Debut

Ashleigh Barty (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 25, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

“It’s important to believe you have a chance,” has been World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty‘s mantra all week as she’s competed in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, the WTA’s 500-series kickoff to the European spring clay season.

On Sunday afternoon inside a near-empty Porsche Arena, with a mamba green metallic Porsche Taycan Turbo S Cross Turismo going to the winner in addition to prize money and 470 WTA rankings points, the top-seeded Barty and World No. 7 and fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka locked in for a one-hour and 47-minute battle full of long, thought-out rallies, each in their Stuttgart debut.

After the 163rd and last point was completed – and after the second championship point – it was Barty who celebrated, thanks to a 3-6, 6-0, 6-3 victory over Sabalenka. She won the keys to the brand-new Porsche automobile after winning her third WTA title of the year to go with previous triumphs at the Yarra Valley Classic and Miami Open. It was Barty’s 11th crown of her career and second on clay following her 2019 Roland Garros title run. It was also her third consecutive win against a Top 10 opponent – each after losing the first set.

“It’s been an incredible week, an incredible start for us on what will be a long journey,” said Barty during the trophy ceremony. “I’m enjoying every minute and very grateful to be doing what I love here in Stuttgart.”

The Stuttgart title match represented the second clay final for each competitor – the first for Barty since her 2019 title run to winning the French Open and first for Sabalenka since reach the final at Lugano in 2018.

After Sabalenka beat World No. 3 Simona Halep Saturday night to reach the 14th singles final of her career, she told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference that “for winning, I just have to stay really calm. And this is the big difference, because usually when I’m losing it’s because I’m getting frustrated about everything and my mind is not on the game. When I’m staying calm and thinking about the right things, for example, about the game and what I should do, then it helps me to win.”

Sabalenka has won nine career WTA singles title but never on clay. Now, she’ll have to wait a little longer, but not for a lack of effort. The Belarusian won the opening set thanks to her break of Barty’s serve in the eighth game on her second break-point chance, then closed it on her second set-point opportunity in the next game after Barty weakly netted a second-shot return.

The two competitors were focused from the start – a 16-point Barty hold for 3-all in which she saved three break points was evidence – but Sabalenka used her power game to her advantage, both on her serve and her returns and Barty wasn’t as sharp as she had been in beating back-to-back Top 10 opponents, first Karolina Pliskova (quarterfinals), then Elina Svitolina (semifinals).

However, Barty was far from being done. The Aussie rallied in the second set – finding her rhythm at last while disrupting Sabalenka’s – and won the second set 6-0 in just 20 minutes, in which many of the points were achieved through short, quick rallies. Barty broke Sabalenka in three consecutive games to level the title match and send it to a decider.

Following a medical time out, in which Sabalenka received treatment on her right adductor and returned with it bandaged, Barty raced to a 3-0 lead in the final set – having won nine consecutive games since the beginning of the second set. Then, Sabalenka was able to finally hold her serve, but by then it was too little too late. Although she would break Barty to get back on serve, Barty broke right back to lead 4-2. Then, Barty held at 5-2 following a six-deuce, 18-point game in which Barty saved three break points. From there, she served out the title victory with relative ease. It improved Barty’s career head-to-head against Sabalenka to 4-3, and she is now 10-0 in her last 10 matches against Top 10 competitors.

Despite coming up short in her quest to win a clay-court title for the first time, Sabalenka found positives to take with her as the European clay season continues in Madrid. She told Tennis TourTalk“First of all, I believe I can play on court courts. Secondly, I’m always on the court fighting from the beginning to the end, no matter what. From today’s match, I want to take as a positive thing that I was fighting for every point.”

Barty finished the championship final with five aces, hit 26 winners and 28 unforced errors, won 72 percent (39 of 54) of her first-serve points. She saved eight of the 10 break points she faced, won 51 percent (43 of 84) of her return points and outpointed Sabalenka 92-71. Sabalenka countered with three aces but also hit six double faults. Her 22 winners were outnumbered by her 39 unforced errors – including 14 in the middle set. She won 56 percent (28 of 50) of her first-serve points and saved seven of 12 break points.

“I think you learn from every single match regardless of who the opponent is,” Barty told Tennis TourTalk, on the eve of her 16th career WTA singles final. “I think the Top 10 players – and particularly the WTA Top 10 – have the last five or six years been exceptional quality and I think you have to bring your best to be able to compete.

“You know when it forces some of our best tennis out of you. So, it’s nice, in the critical moments, to come up with pretty good stuff. Obviously, you enjoy the challenge of playing against the world’s best as well.”

During her virtual press conference, Barty told Tennis TourTalk that looking back on her week in Stuttgart, she “tried to adapt as quickly as possible and take the game on, be really positive, be aggressive and try and play as many matches as possible on my terms.

“You know, more than anything, it’s regardless of whether it’s a title or not, I felt like this week was a really positive week in the way that we went about tennis. It’s a problem solved, it’s just a bonus that we’ve come out at the end with a title.”

Barty/Brady win Porsche Tennis Grand Prix doubles title

Doubles dream team Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Jennifer Brady of the United States, both Top 20 singles players, teamed to win Porsche Tennis Grand Prix doubles title with a 6-4, 5-7, 10-5 victory of American duo Desirae Krawczyk and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The final lasted one hour and 41 minutes and capped a sweep of both the singles and doubles titles by Barty on Sunday.

The Barty-Brady combo combined to hit 25 winners and broke their opponents three times in 11 tries. Barty and Brady saved eight of the 10 break points they faced from Krawczyk and Mattek-Sands and outpointed their opponents 76-69.

The victory improved Barty and Brady’s win-loss record to 7-2 this season and their Stuttgart result was their best in the three tournaments they’ve played together.

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

By the numbers

• Before Ashleigh Barty‘s singles title win Sunday, the last reigning World No. 1 player to win Stuttgart was Justine Henin in 2007.

• Prior to Ashleigh Barty’s sweep of the Stuttgart singles and doubles titles, the last player to sweep both singles and doubles crowns in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix was Lindsay Davenport – twenty years ago in 2001.

What they’re saying

Ashleigh Barty on whether this is the time of the Ash Barty reign: “Not by any means. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself. I’m just coming out here working hard every day and try to do the best I can in every match, regardless of what ranking or number is next to my name. I try to approach it with that kind of focus and with that attitude. That’s all that really matters to me. But I absolutely do not feel like by any means it’s an era of me. No.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Ashleigh Barty on whether this week met or exceeded her expectations on red clay: “There were no expectations. I think that’s the best way for my team and I. We just come and play. Whatever happens happens, and what will be will be. We just come out here and try and do the best we can on that given day against our opponent and regardless of the result kind of have the right attitude and kind of the right focus on the court and that’s all that matters.”

Aryna Sabalenka on the difference between winning and losing the final: “Something happened to my adductor and I couldn’t move. I gave it all today, so I was fighting for every point – even with this pain. Yes, [Ash] played very well. I gave her opportunities and she took it.”

• Sabalenka on Barty: “Her game is suited for clay court and she moved well, hit her shots well. It’s always tough to play against her. She’s a great player – she’s number one.”