World No.1 Ashleigh Barty took home her 10th career title and second of the 2021 season, capping off another successful Florida fortnight to defend her title at the Miami Open. Barty sealed her successful return to U.S. soil on Saturday by earning her third straight Top 10 win in Miami.
She knocked off No.8 Aryna Sabalenka, No.5 Elina Svitolina, and then No.9 Bianca Andreescu in the final. The resurgent Canadian was forced to retire down 6-3, 4-0 after going over her right foot two games into the second set.
Barty became the second player in 2021 to win a title after having to face down match point earlier in the tournament. Coming into Miami after a 50-hour trip from Brisbane, Barty saved match point in her opener against Kristina Kucova before defeating major champions Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka in back-to-back matches, and then tallying her string of Top 10 wins to close out her 12-match winning streak in Miami.
Barty came into Miami having lost her last two matches, a heart-breaking three-set loss to Karolina Muchova in the Australian Open quarterfinals, where she led by a set and a break, and a loss to Danielle Collins in her opener at the Adelaide International. Barty's No.1 ranking was also under threat in Miami, as World No.2 Naomi Osaka had a chance to retake the top spot.
But the chatter around the No.1 ranking and her form was just white noise for the even-keeled 24-year-old Queenslander.
"I never have to prove anything to anyone," Barty told reporters after the final. "I know all the work that I do with my team behind the scene.
"I know there has been a lot of talk about the ranking, but I didn't play at all last year and I didn't improve any of my points whatsoever. Yes, I didn't drop but I didn't improve any. I didn't play any at all. There were girls who had the chance to improve theirs, so I felt like I thoroughly deserve my spot at the top of the rankings.
"The year we had in 2019 was incredible for us, and to be able to build on that now since the restart for us has been great. But certainly in my eyes 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."
Barty is now 14-2 in 2021 and joins Daria Kasatkina as the only players who have won multiple titles this season. As she celebrates her Miami title and looks ahead to the clay season, the 2019 Roland Garros champion sat down with WTA Insider to reflect on her title defense and preview her clay season.
Proud of our week in Miami 🏆 #10— Ash Barty (@ashbarty) April 3, 2021
But it’s never a nice way to finish a match... Wishing Bianca a speedy recovery! The first of many matches for us I’m sure! pic.twitter.com/IE3zGGgNF6
WTA Insider: Where do we even start with your two weeks in Miami? A 50-hour commute, which is not ideal, to get from Brisbane to Miami. Facing down a match point in your opening match, beating three Top 10 players, as well as wins over major champions in Azareka and Ostapenko. What was the key to getting a win in your first tournament outside of Australia in over a year?
Barty: Yeah, well, after the journey over, I said to Tyz [Craig Tyzzer], well it can only get better from here. Genuinely.
After our first round, we almost had the license to play a carefree brand of tennis where we could really go out there and be aggressive and know that the tournament could have been over very, very early on. So I think it's been an exceptional fortnight. It really has.
I feel like with each match, my tennis has gotten better and better. Obviously it's never the way you want to win a match with your opponent being injured, particularly in a final. But I feel like the work over the last two weeks has been really good and hopefully will put us in good stead for the rest of the season.
WTA Insider: You and Bianca are both praised for your variety and poise under pressure. What did you make of your first meeting against her?
Barty: Really, really tricky conditions as well. Extremely blustery at court level and really hard to find a consistent contact point, a consistent strike zone. So I think at times, completely out of our control, the ball was moving a foot plus some right before contact. So to have to make those adjustments and have to adapt, I think, for both of us was a challenge, without a doubt.
At times it was almost trying to play the simple stuff as best as you could and just try and find both court position and positioning with your feet just to be able to make contact with the ball that was going to get you any depth or any value on it.
So I just felt like for both of us, it was probably a little bit of a feeling-out period. Obviously, having never played each other, it's natural that there's always going to be that little bit of a chess game of trying to figure out how we want to play the match.
But, yeah, hopefully it'll be the first of many battles for us and hopefully, from now on, they're healthy ones and like today, hopefully they're in big matches and the bigger moments.
WTA Insider: You came into Miami off two losses at the Australian Open and Adelaide, where you had leads that you weren't able to consolidate. What did you learn from those losses going into Miami, where you had to come through some tight moments all tournament.
Barty: Yeah, it's never easy coming off a couple of losses, but it's also not the end of the world. I also know that a couple of matches don't define us, don't change all the work that we've done in the past. Keep chipping away, just keep working and eventually it will turn.
I probably felt that midway through my second match here against Ostapenko, I almost felt like I had that little bit of a flick of a switch where I actually felt a lot more comfortable on the ball. And of course, there are always improvements from every single match, but it's about trusting yourself and I think I found a little bit more of that trust midway through this tournament. And then it becomes about execution.
When you're playing Top 10 players, when you're playing the best in the world, sometimes that's not enough. You're not always going to win those matches. You don't win every single tennis match. That's impossible. It's just about keep chipping away, keep plugging away, do the work, and know that you get your confidence from the training, not necessarily the results and the wins and losses.
Barty: "I feel like I haven't earned the right to be in a list of names with those champions. They are genuine champions of our sport, legends of our sport. I feel very privileged to be mentioned in that sentence. It's very cool and something I was unaware of.”#MiamiOpen https://t.co/os8IGlYfvi— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) April 3, 2021
WTA Insider: The title here in Miami in 2019 really kickstarted your incredible 2019 season. What was it about that win that seemed to trigger your rise? Ever since then, you've won 13 of 16 matches against Top 10 opponents. You've brought your best against the game's best.
Barty: I think after the Indian Wells match with Svitolina I was hurting, both physically and mentally. I knew that if I'd won that match it was an opportunity for me to go Top 10, and I didn't. So it was almost like one of my dreams had been ripped away from me. I was so close and it had been ripped away. When you get that little bit of a fire in the belly, sometimes you need that little kick on to keep you motivated.
The tournament in 2019 here in Miami, I felt like probably still to this day, it's one of the best of my career, in a sense of of the tennis that I played. I said to Tyz for the first time that week, breaking into the Top 10, I felt like I belonged in the Top 10. I felt like I could sustain that level consistently.
And then that's the challenge, is setting your goal, setting your targets and, not your expectations, but your accountability for yourself. That's the standard we demand, that's the standard we want and that's what we aim for. It's not always going to be about hitting the tennis ball. It's about the work that you do off the court, the work in and around the ball. There's a lot of things that come into that.
But I think for me that it almost gave me a sense of belonging, that week in 2019, to know that that I was comfortable that I was enough, that I was good enough to play with the best and match up with the best.
WTA Insider: As we look ahead towards the clay season, you've said that the match against Simona Halep in the Round of 16 in 2019 Madrid, a 7-5, 7-5 loss, was a match that seemed to turn something around for you on clay. Despite your Roland Garros title, it's not your favorite surface. What is the key for you to make the transition this year?
Barty: Without a doubt, I'm excited for the clay season. I'm still absolutely counting down the days until we're back on the grass, 100 percent.
But yeah, I think the match against Simo in Madrid that year was a little bit of a game-changer in a sense. I just felt like I learned a lot in that match from the best clay courter in the world, in my opinion. There was not a lot in it. The couple of times that I got broken, I just pressed. To lose five and five, certainly no shame in that. So I think that progression through the clay season and even through Roland Garros, I felt like each match I learned a hell of a lot.
If anything, aside from the title at Roland Garros, all the experience that I gained through the season in Madrid and Rome and then through Roland Garros really put me in good stead for this year. I feel comfortable and trust that I know that I can play on clay, that I can trust my physicality, that I can trust my game.
It's not always going to turn out every single time. Clay court tennis is brutal. Coming off these two weeks in Miami, the courts here and the conditions here are brutal. So it'll take some time for the body to recover, without a doubt.
But we look forward to going to Charleston. I find the green clay is almost a little bit of a middleman between hardcourt and the red clay. It's typically a little bit quicker. You almost can move on it like a hardcourt if you want to, or you can go full clay-court mode and slide around and move around as if you're on the European dirt. It's a good middle ground to almost get my feet wet again on the clay. But I'm looking forward to it, without a doubt.
WTA Insider: Naomi Osaka, who is also gaining in her experience on clay and grass, said she can play a little bit more freely because she puts less pressure on herself compared to hard courts. Do you relate to that? Or do you treat clay the same way as any other surface?
Barty: You can't treat it the exact same way because I think clay court tennis is a different beast. It really is. The challenge on any surface, I think, is to be able to play with a feeling where you don't have consequence - not careless or reckless - but carefree. I think when I'm playing my best tennis, I have that balance right, of being precise, but also being able to play without consequence and not focusing on the result.
I think during the clay, you can almost narrow in that focus a little bit more because every point can be what feels like a match in itself. It can be long. It can be demanding. So I think on clay you really have to be present for every single point, maybe more than any other surface. That's the challenge.
We go into this clay-court season knowing that we had a really, really good clay-court season a couple of years ago but there's still room for improvement. There's room for us to try and be better. But use the experience we got from 2019 to put us in good stead.
WTA Insider: So have you been on the phone with Bob Moran in Charleston to get the greens ready for you on Daniel Island? Will you be able to hit the golf courses there or will the bubble preclude that? How will you decompress and recover from Miami for Charleston?
Barty: Yeah, I love Charleston. It's a beautiful city and Bob and Eleanor (Adams) do an exceptional job every single year. It's such a welcoming tournament. It's just a brilliant place. And even though we will be in the bubble, I think if we've got a few days after the tournament before we head to Stuttgart, we'll get out and about and enjoy the city as best we can.
But for Bob and Eleanor to be able to create a safe environment for us to play a tournament, I think it's without fans, which is always disappointing that we can't play with people, but it's a safe environment for us to go and do what we love. We will be forever grateful to them for putting that opportunity forward to us. I can't wait to them and give them a big hug once, once we're safely in the bubble, and say G'day to them. It's been a long time since I've seen them, but they've always treated me like family, which I've been very, very grateful for.