No.5 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara won their third title of the season and the biggest of their careers at the Miami Open with a 6-2, 7-5 win over No.8 seeds Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani.
"Miami Open was one of the few tournaments that I was really looking forward to playing, especially because I was born and raised in the U.S.," Shibahara said. "Indian Wells/Miami are like the sunshine tournaments. Every time it would be playing on my TV screen when I was little, I was, like, I want to play on this stage. For me, this title is really special."
In a reprise of the Abu Dhabi final, where Aoyama and Shibahara defeated Carter and Stefani 7-6(4), 6-4, the Japanese duo dominated the start and end of the contest, saving a set point in the second set en route to winning the last five games. The result extends their winning streak in finals to six, including a Tour-leading total of three in 2021, and their head-to-head over Carter and Stefani to 3-1.
Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara's 6-1 record in WTA finals
San Jose 2019, l. Nicole Melichar/Kveta Peschke 6-4, 6-4
Tianjin 2019, d. Nao Hibino/Miyu Kato 6-3, 7-5
Moscow 2019, d. Kirsten Flipkens/Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-2, 6-1
St. Petersburg 2020, d. Kaitlyn Christian/Alexa Guarachi 4-6, 6-0, [10-3]
Abu Dhabi 2021, d. Hayley Carter/Luisa Stefani 7-6(5), 6-4
Yarra Valley Classic 2021, d. Anna Kalinskaya/Viktoria Kuzmova 6-3, 6-4
Miami 2021, d. Hayley Carter/Luisa Stefani 6-2, 7-5
In a contest featuring four university alumnae, Aoyama and Shibahara had their opponents' measure at the outset. Threading finely angled passes and utilising Shibahara's formidable forehand to overpower Carter and Stefani, the higher seeds broke twice to take an emphatic opening set. Also key was their ability to rise to the occasion in big moments: Aoyama and Shibahara won four of the set's five deciding points.
"We have played Hayley and Luisa many, many times and knew that they were going to fight till the end, get every ball back," Shibahara said. "I think we started off really well finding those passing shots when we needed them."
The American-Brazilian duo would turn the tables in the second set thanks to some superb hustle and several brilliant hotshots, including a backhand winner from wide of the net post from Carter and a lunging volley save from Stefani. This took them to a lead of 5-2 and set point - before Aoyama halted the comeback in its tracks.
The most experienced player on court, 33-year-old Aoyama saved the set point with a barrage of double-fisted forehands before leading the final charge to the title. Carter dropped serve at 5-5 with her third double fault, and Shibahara unleashed some more power to seal her team's third championship point in the next game.
"Second set 2-5 down, I think we couldn't be patient maybe because they have like a wall at the net," Aoyama said. "We tried to think, what do we have to do? If what we do what we should do and then they got point, it's okay. So we just try to keep our tennis. I think we had very good energy again and focused. That's why we were able to come back."
Aoyama and Shibahara become the first Japanese champions in Miami since Ai Sugiyama, who won the title here twice - in 2000 with Julie Halard-Decugis and in 2008 Katarina Srebotnik. Having snapped a four-match losing streak coming into this fortnight, their first WTA 1000 title also extends their 2021 record to 15-4.
"Honestly I can't believe [we won Miami] because it's a very big tournament, next to a Grand Slam," Aoyama said. "We can get more confidence. We want to try to play at the Grand Slam like today."