Despite not having played a WTA event in nearly a year, World No.1 Ashleigh Barty rolled into the 2021 season with a title in front of her hometown fans.
At the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne, the Aussie eased past No.6 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 7-6(3), 6-4, to win her ninth career WTA singles title. It is Barty’s second career title on home soil (2019 Adelaide) title.
"It was some of the better tennis I played throughout the whole week," Barty said, in her post-match press conference. "Garbiñe forced me to play at that level. It was a great final."
Barty and Muguruza had faced off three times previously, with the Australian taking two of those encounters, including in the 2020 Doha quarterfinals -- the most recent event Barty played on the WTA circuit before this week.
All of their previous meetings had gone three sets, but this time around, it was Barty who collected victory in straight sets with a 1-hour, 44-minute triumph. Barty's 28 winners, including 11 aces, doubled Muguruza's winner count on the day.
"Today I had to try and neutralize as best I can, then get on the front foot as soon as I could," Barty said. "It's not always just about the tennis sometimes, it's about how you can control the court.
"I felt like I moved great today and was able to squeeze the court a lot of the times, make Garbiñe press a little bit, which was an important part of the match."
Barty opened the match with a service game that contained three aces, but that did not preclude Muguruza from winning the following game on her return and move ahead 2-1. Barty kept within touching distance, with some strong forehands to pull back level at 3-3.
Muguruza powered to another break and led 5-4, but the Spaniard could not serve out the set as Barty leveled the tilt again. The pair moved into a tiebreak where Barty zipped to a commanding 4-0 lead. Barty held on from there, clinching the challenging opener with another rally forehand winner.
Another close set was cracked open by Barty at 4-4, as she earned her fourth service break of the day with a winning groundstroke. Barty served out the match with ease, racing to triple match point, then ending the affair with a deft lob.
"Overall it was a pretty solid performance," Barty said. "I'm still my harshest critic at times. That's the challenge of sport every day, is trying to get better and better."
Aoyama, Shibahara continue undefeated streak with doubles title
On Saturday, the Japanese duo of Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara picked up the Yarra Valley Classic doubles title with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Anna Kalinskaya of Russia and Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia.
The trophy continues an incredible run for the tandem in the 2021 season, as Aoyama and Shibahara have racked up two consecutive titles, with their team record standing at 8-0 so far this year. They also triumphed at Abu Dhabi in the first event of the season.
"Communication is really key for us," Shibahara said, after their win. "Even throughout the match, when we’re down, we try and talk it out, and I think that’s been helping us a lot. Even if we’re losing in the match, I feel like we’re able to come back because we have that communication.
"We spend most of our time with each other and I think that adds to our chemistry on court. We just know that we have each other’s back no matter what, and even if I’m not playing the best, she brings it out of me, and vice versa."
Aoyama had high praise for her partner as well, saying that Shibahara "has good energy, great serve, great volley -- everything she has is a good shot, so we can make point options."