Ash Barty emphatically silenced the rankings critics when she successfully defended her 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú on Saturday, although she was disappointed that her final match against Bianca Andreescu ended prematurely at 6-3, 4-0, after the Canadian suffered an injury at 2-0 in the second set, then retired two games later.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That’s absolutely fine. I can’t control what anyone else thinks or what anyone else says. I feel like we deserve to be top of the rankings. It doesn’t ever really get to me. I mean, it’s just what people say and I can’t change their opinion, so it doesn’t stress me out at all. Ash Barty
“It’s never the way you ever want to finish a match, particularly in a final,” Barty said in her post-match press conference. “I really do feel for Bianca. I think she’s had such a rough trot with injuries in the past.
“I think that’s going to be one of the first of many battles for us. I just hope from now on they are healthy and we can both stay out on the court and fight for everything that we can give. Obviously I feel for her having to pull out today.”
Barty dominated the first set, looking every inch the World No 1 as she worked to create an impressive 5-2 lead, relying on her impressive forehand to break Andreescu for 2-0 with a passing winner off that side, then holding on with ease to consolidate for 3-0.
It took a while for the Canadian to find her feet, playing Barty for the first time and needing to figure out the Aussie’s cocktail of mixed spins and pace.
She found her grit at 4-1 as she finally forced Barty to miscue in the rallies from 40-0 up, storming back to earn her first break of the day and getting back on serve.
A protracted game followed, where strong serving by Andreescu helped her save 2 early break points, but a forehand winner off the net cord landed on the baseline to give the Australian a 3rd, which Barty clinched with a stunning backhand crosscourt winner ending an extended all-court rally.
Barty held on from there to wrap up the opening set, slamming 11 winners, including 3 aces to go up a set, while Andreescu struck just 6 in the opening frame.
After double-faulting to cede an early break in the first game of the second, Andreescu was already facing a deficit when she tripped and fell at 2-0.
The trainer strapped her right foot and ankle, and the Canadian played on for 2 more games but, in tears and obviously distressed, she conceded the match, unable to continue beyond that point.
It was possibly the result of the Canadian’s arduous trip through the draw, which included 4 three-setters in a row en route to the final, after missing the entirety of the 2020 season due to injuries, and Miami was only her third event in the past two seasons.
Barty’s path in Miami, too, had been challenging, but she mounted an impressive turnaround after surviving a two-and-a-half-hour opening match against Kristina Kucova, which was her first off of Australian soil in over a year, needing to save a match point before staving off the challenge from the Slovakian qualifier.
The top seed then had to battle through the draw, winning in 3 sets wins over Belarusians Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka before earning her 10th WTA singles title in the process.
“I felt like with each match I have been playing better and better, which is ultimately what we are after,” Barty said. “To be able to have the title at the end is a bonus, and to be able to defend my title the first time in my career I’ve been able to do that is really, really special too.”
Barty is the first top seed to successfully defend her Miami Open title since Serena Williams in 2015, and remains as the World No 1.
The 24-year-old has faced some sniping from critics who have suggested that Naomi Osaka, winner of last year’s US Open and this year’s Australian Open, was more deserving of the No 1 status.
Barty, the 2019 French Open champion, has held the top spot in the rankings since September of that year, despite skipping the rescheduled US and French Opens in 2020 to remain in Australia.
The Aussie, however, is unfazed by the criticism over her continued presence as World No 1 because she benefited from a tweak in the way rankings are calculated, which took into account the disruption caused by last year’s pandemic shutdown.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That’s absolutely fine,” she said. “I can’t control what anyone else thinks or what anyone else says.
“I feel like we deserve to be top of the rankings. It doesn’t ever really get to me. I mean, it’s just what people say and I can’t change their opinion, so it doesn’t stress me out at all.”
The Aussie’s versatility is astounding and she has won titles on all surfaces, possesses a Grand Slam title, and now has 2 WTA 1000 trophies, as well as an end-of-year championship to her name.
Barty, who opted to remain in Australia last year after the WTA season resumed following the pandemic shutdown, is now looking forward to a crowded schedule.
She will play the WTA event in Charleston next week as part of preparations for the European clay court season where she will play in Madrid, Stuttgart and Rome before aiming to regain her French Open title at Roland Garros.
“The year we had in 2019 was incredible, incredible for us, and, you know, to be able to build on that now since the restart for us has been great,” Barty said.
“We come out here and do the best that we can regardless of what anyone is saying. So I never feel like I have to prove anything to anyone.”
“In 2019, throughout each week that I played, I felt like I got better and better on the clay and obviously grew in confidence and grew in experience.
“If it turns out we have a great clay court season, that’s fantastic, and if we don’t, then it’s not the end of the world.”
Barty has now won 12 consecutive matches at the Miami Open, including the 2019 championship. and becomes the 6th woman to defend her crown here, following in the legendary footsteps of Steffi Graf (1987-88, 1994-96), Monica Seles (1990-91), Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario (1992-93), Venus Williams (1998-99), and Serena Williams (2002-04, 2007-08, 2013-15).
Each of these 6 players has also held the World No 1 ranking.
“They are genuine champions of our sport, legends of our sport,” Barty said. “I feel very privileged to be mentioned in that sentence, and it’s very cool and something I was unaware of.
“But I think it’s extremely humbling to be mentioned in the same sentence as those champions, [and] I feel like I’ve got a long, long way to go yet before I can be in discussion with those names.”
Andreescu’s bold run to the final means she still boasts a stunning 33-3 win-loss record in North America since the start of 2019, and she is projected to move up 3 spots in the WTA rankings to World No 6.
“I really fought through very tough matches,” Andreescu said in her post-match press conference. “My body seemed to be good up until today. I think it was just, like, a freak accident.
“But other than that, I’m super grateful. One of my first tournaments back in a really long time, and all I can say is that I’m super grateful.”
Andreescu has endured so much mentally and physically and the twisted ankle is worrisome, so much so that she retired from the match at the urging of her fitness coach in the stands.
“I’m definitely the type to wear her emotions on her sleeve,” Andreescu said, following the match. “To me, it’s more of a strength because I’m being who I am. I’m not afraid to show that. I’m a very expressive person. It’s helped me win.”
Her run in Miami signals a welcome return to form for the Canadian, just her third event since returning to the tour from a 15-month absence, and she has shown noticeable improvement since Australia, taking out two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza and young American phenom Amanda Anisimova.
“It seems that I’m kind of the only one that keeps getting asked questions about injuries, which is super annoying,” Andreescu snapped at the suggestion that she is injury prone.
“I don’t want, like, for me to have a reputation of that, because it’s not only me that’s getting injured.”
Andreescu logged 12 hours, 26 minutes on court through her 6 matches, with 4 of them going the full three sets, and the last one was her semi-final victory over Maria Sakkari that ended at 1.35am ET.
“It felt like I played three tournaments in one with all the time I had on court,” Andreescu joked.
Andreescu will now head home, perhaps with a swollen foot, but also a newfound confidence she lacked in a 2020 spent entirely on the sidelines.
“I’m feeling confident. Like, yeah, sometimes my game is not always going to be there, but I clutch it out during those times, like I’ll figure it out.
“That’s just a challenge of playing sports in general. And I’m here for it, and I want to be here for it for a long time.”