To mark the end of a record-setting 2019 season, wtatennis.com is counting down our picks for the best WTA matches of the year. Check out our Top 5 Grand Slam Matches here.
Top 5 Best WTA Matches of 2019:
No.5: Simona Halep d. Bianca Andreescu, Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen
Coming in at No.4 is Ashleigh Barty's late-night victory over Petra Kvitova in the Miami Open quarterfinals, which pushed the Australian into the Top 10, gave her a first win over one of her most challenging rivals, and set up an incredible week and season.
WHAT HAPPENED: Coming into their quarterfinal battle at the 2019 Miami Open, Ashleigh Barty and Petra Kvitova had already checked off a number of milestones during the first quarter of the season, as they each obtained new noteworthy accomplishments as their WTA comebacks continued.
For the Czech Republic’s Kvitova, early 2019 saw her return to a career-high ranking of World No.2 and her first Grand Slam final since her championship run at Wimbledon in 2014. Both were truly heroic achievements coming just a shade over two years after being attacked in a home invasion in December 2016, where her serving hand was severely injured.
The outset of the 2019 season also saw Barty propel herself to brand new peaks following a nearly two-year hiatus from the tour between 2014 and 2016. The Australian at last reached her maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal on home soil at the Australian Open, rising to a career-high ranking of World No.11 at the start of the Miami Open.
Barty was on the brink of the Top 10 of the WTA singles rankings for the first time, and needed one more match-win to break into that cohort. Moreover, one could infer that she would have gone further even faster in 2019 were it not for Kvitova. The Czech had defeated the Australian in a classic final at the Sydney International, and then ended Barty’s run in the Australian Open quarterfinals just weeks later.
Kvitova had become a true bugaboo for Barty, as the Czech came into their Miami tilt with a 4-0 lead in their head-to-head. Kvitova had lost a winner-take-all battle for the Australian Open title and the World No.1 ranking against Naomi Osaka in January, but once again, she had a chance to claim the top spot for the first time with a deep run in Miami. Maintaining her undefeated record against Barty would put Kvitova tantalizingly close to finally reaching the summit of the rankings.
Nevertheless, Barty said she was "absolutely not" tired of facing Kvitova in 2019. "If it is Petra, I look forward to it," a confident Barty said after her win over Kiki Bertens in the round of 16, adding that "it's always an exceptional challenge."
The night match got off to an inauspicious start as two rain delays interrupted the early going, including a two-hour break that finally subsided at 10:30 p.m. with the players only at 2-1. But once they got through the precipitation, a sublime opening set with scintillating rallies took place, and it would be Barty who claimed the one-set lead, coming back from an early loss of serve and a 1-4 deficit in the decisive tiebreak.
With her backhand slice on song, Barty's hope to at last notch a win over Kvitova initially seemed to be coming to fruition. The Czech, though, regained form in the second set, using her fearsome forehand to race to a 3-0 lead. Kvitova cut her unforced errors from 24 in the opening frame to just nine in the second set, and leveled the match with an error-forcing forehand after two hours of action.
However, Barty would not be denied in her quest for a signature win over one of her most difficult rivals. The Australian summoned her grit to claim the first break of the decider, deploying a devilish lob for a winner as she broke Kvitova for a 2-0 lead. Kvitova made a late charge to pull back on serve, but Barty continued to press and reclaimed her break advantage as she eased to 5-2.
By the end of the late-night barnburner, Barty was too strong on the night, and Kvitova double faulted on match point to give the Australian the victory. After two hours and 34 minutes, Barty staved off the fiery power game of Kvitova to clinch the 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-2 win well past midnight, claiming her first win over Kvitova in five tries, and queuing up what would turn out to be a critical run for her season.
WHAT THEY SAID: In her post-match press conference, Barty said that to get her first win over Kvitova, “it was important for me to try and take Petra's serve away from her as much as possible. She's got an absolute world-class serve.”
“At times it was still out of my control,” the victor continued, “but I tried to do the best I could and tried to get into as many service games as I could, and I thought I did that really well tonight.”
With a spot in the Top 10 now guaranteed, Barty said, with a smile, that she felt “bloody good” about that accomplishment. “[The Top 10 has] been a goal of mine, that's no secret. It's amazing what happens when you put your hopes and dreams out into the universe and do the work. You know, it's amazing.”
“We have done a lot of hard work over the last, oh, eight, nine, ten months, whatever it is, to try and just get that little bit better and try and tick every box that we can,” Barty added. “I feel like it's made an amazing difference in my tennis, both me as a person and a player.”
In a moment of foreshadowing for the rest of the season, Barty also said that “there is still a long way to go, and I'm not satisfied. I'm still hungry to get better as a person and as a player. If that means that the ranking gets higher and higher, that's pretty cool, as well.”
Meanwhile, Kvitova said during her post-match press conference that, “in the end, [it] was a similar game as we played before. It was just on [Barty’s] side this time, and I think she really played well. She didn't give me anything for free.”
“She has a great touch, and those slices, sometimes it was, like, amazing,” Kvitova added.
WHAT IT MEANT: Beating Kvitova for the first time was truly a level-up moment for Barty, as the Australian took that victory and ran with it to further heights.
Barty went on to oust Anett Kontaveit in straight sets to reach the Miami Open final, where she would face Karolina Pliskova, with whom she had a 2-2 head-to-head. Barty would go on to beat Pliskova in straight sets as well, confirming her newly attained Top 10 status with her first-ever Premier Mandatory title.
The 2019 Miami Open would not stay Barty’s biggest career title for long, as she would go on to triumph at Roland Garros and at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen later in the year, en route to a commanding finish as the year-end World No.1 player.
Kvitova would add a second 2019 title in Stuttgart, but the Czech struggled with a persistent arm injury during the rest of a stop-and-start season, and was unable to reach the elusive World No.1 ranking that seemed within her grasp in the first part of the year. Nevertheless, Kvitova still earned her seventh year-end Top 10 finish in the last nine seasons.
In an ironic twist, it was Kvitova who would in fact see her late-season runs stymied by Barty. The Australian fully turned the tables in their rivalry with the Miami Open victory, and is currently on a three-match winning streak against Kvitova, following that encounter with autumn triumphs over the Czech at Beijing and the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen.