Ashleigh Barty is bracing for a mighty challenge from Bianca Andreescu, a player many good judges consider the next big thing in women’s tennis, when she defends her title against the Canadian in the Miami Open final.
World No.1 Barty overcame fifth seed Elina Svitolina 6-3 6-3 to advance from her semi-final on Thursday while 20-year-old Andreescu rallied to down Maria Sakkari 7-6 (9-7) 3-6 7-6 (7-4) in an early- hours thriller.
Barty has never played world No.8 Andreescu, and does not watch a lot of tennis on television, but is well aware of the threat she faces from the exciting youngster in Saturday’s title decider.
Like Barty, who played little in 2020, Andreescu is on the comeback trail having had her whole 2020 season wiped out by injury and the coronavirus pandemic.
But her 2019 season put everyone on alert when she beat Serena Williams in consecutive tournament finals to win the Rogers Cup in Canada and the US Open, having earlier claimed the Indian Wells crown, with a game that blends power and variety.
Again demonstrating her competitive qualities, she improved to 7-1 this year in three-set matches as she advanced to her first final since her 2019 US Open triumph.
“I haven’t played her before, haven’t hit with her. It’s a fresh one for both of us,” Barty said.
“Bianca has shown in big tournaments that she’s got the ability to beat the very best, and I know from the little that I have seen that she’s got a way of moving around the court that’s extremely physical.
“She’s got great hands and she’s got options off both sides.
“What makes her game exceptionally challenging is that she has so many different assets and so many different things that she can go to.”
Barty had been 1-5 in previous matches against Svitolina, but took charge of their semi with two early breaks.
She is now one match from claiming a second Miami Open title, having saved a match point against qualifier Kristina Kucova in her opening match – her first outside Australia since February 2020.
“Whenever you come back from a match point, it’s a little bit of a strange feeling,” Barty said.
“You have to be more open with what the possibilities the rest of the tournament could be, and keep going out there and keep fighting, knowing you could have just as easily been out of the tournament.”
Barty was already assured of retaining her No.1 ranking for at least another five weeks following Naomi Osaka’s surprise quarter-final defeat to Sakkari.
Her time at the pinnacle will extend to 74 weeks at least and it is enough to move Barty to ninth all-time for most weeks at the top.
Barty won this event in 2019 but said her run to that title was a different experience.
“Chalk and cheese,” the Queenslander said. “The conditions have been different here this week. It has been a lot warmer and physically very demanding.
“I have so many good memories playing here. I’m very grateful to have another opportunity to play for the title.”
–Australian Associated Press