It comes as little surprise that Ashleigh Barty finds herself in the final of the Western & Southern Open, the final big push ahead of the US Open.
She has failed to drop a set all week, and in press afterward, Barty noted she has been happy with the adjustments she's made during the tournament.
"I am at the moment exactly where I am," Barty said. "There is no point rating my performance from today against previous matches. They are all unique, they are all different, and I think each match has different circumstances."
She'll need to make even more adjustments Sunday (2 p.m. ET) against Jil Teichmann, who Saturday took out No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova in straight sets in the semifinals.
Teichmann might be unseeded, but in addition to a red-hot Pliskova, she has knocked off Naomi Osaka and recent gold medal winner Belinda Bencic.
Can the Swiss upset the world's top player and win the prestigious 1000-level title? Courtney Nguyen and Greg Garber make their case for each finalist:
As Barty roars through the draw at the Western & Southern Open, there’s an eerie air of familiarity. In fact, we have seen this movie before – just last month at Wimbledon.
The 25-year-old Australian beat Barbora Krejcikova in the fourth round at the All England Club and, in the semifinals, Angelique Kerber. Barty won the final over Karolina Pliskova and collected her second Grand Slam singles title.
It’s Groundhog Week in Cincinnati, where Barty beat Krejcikova and Kerber again in straight sets and – wait, there’s been a last-minute substitution. Pliskova was in line for another go at Barty but was upset in Saturday’s semifinal by the omnipresent Jil Teichmann 6-2, 6-4.
The No. 76-ranked Swiss player has never had a better run, knocking off No.2 Osaka, Tokyo gold medalist Bencic and now Pliskova. That’s three Top 12 players in three days. Will there be a fourth?
Recent history suggests Barty will be up to the task.
After Saturday’s 6-2, 7-5 win over Kerber, she has now reached a WTA-high sixth final of the year. Barty’s 4-for-5 so far, losing only to Aryna Sabalenka in Madrid. Barty has now 39 match-wins, one ahead of Sabalenka for the tour lead.
Afterward, Barty was asked by a reporter to rate her current game on a scale of one to 10. Barty didn’t bite.
“I think it’s impossible to compare myself to any other matches,” Barty said. “I feel like I’m playing well at the moment. We have been able to execute game plans well. I feel like I’m moving well, and I’ve got control of the ball. That’s all I can ask of myself.”
The World No.1 has a wonderfully diverse game, augmented by an increasingly potent serve. Barty dished out 12 aces against Kerber and has compiled 34 in four matches.
“I think she served really well the whole match,” Kerber said. “I think that was maybe the key that, yeah, that I didn’t get too much chances on the returning games.”
Barty, in her 82nd consecutive week at No.1, and Teichmann have never played.
“I don’t know Jil a lot,” Barty said. “I have seen bits and pieces. I know she’s got the ability to move and run and defend. She’s got a great slice backhand, and she’s got variety off her forehand. She can flatten it out if she wants to or she can flip it up and change the tempo of the match.
“She had a great start to the year. I think she struggled with her body and a few injuries throughout the middle section, but she’s got a hell of a game that’s able to disrupt opponents. I think if I do play Jil, it’s a new challenge for me, a new challenge for her, and one I think we both look forward to.”
Kerber, a former No.1, was asked what makes the current No.1 so special.
“I think she has so much confidence right now,” Kerber said. “She plays so well, and she served good. I think this is also a big weapon from her. She's just playing really like tricky, as well. She knows where to put the ball and how to play in the moments where it’s really important. So I think the whole game of hers is really tough, and that’s why she’s there where she is.” -- Greg Garber
It's been a remarkable summer for Swiss tennis. First there was Viktorija Golubic's inspired run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals in early July. Then came Belinda Bencic's gold medal run in singles, with Bencic and Golubic joining forces to take home silver in doubles. Now comes Jil Teichmann, who may have been the standout Swiss of the season if injuries hadn't derailed her sizzling start to 2021.
The Barcelona-born 24-year-old has always been a sublime talent. She has every shot in the book, a serve that can sail through holds, and the athleticism and tennis IQ to shift from offense to defense when needed. In fact, when talking about her final opponent, World No.1 Barty, Teichmann might as well have been talking about herself.
"She's a very complete player, for me," Teichmann told reporters after her 6-2, 6-4 win over Pliskova in the semifinals. "I really actually like her game. I like watching her matches. Big serve, big forehand, does a lot of good variation with slice."
Teichmann's two titles have both come on clay, which led to the presumption that her heavy forehand and athleticism were tuned to the dirt. But since the tour restarted 12 months ago, the all-court lefty has done her most significant damage on the hardcourts.
She made the final in Lexington last August, the quarterfinal of the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne, the semifinals of Adelaide, and then her biggest run before this week, a semifinal in Dubai earlier in the spring. En route to her first WTA 1000 semifinal, Teichmann defeated Petra Kvitova, Ons Jabeur and Coco Gauff before losing to Barbora Krejcikova in Dubai.
Teichmann came into the 2021 season with just one Top 10 win in her career. With her wins over Osaka and Pliskova this week, she is now 4-0 against the Top 10 this season and she'll have a good look to round that out to five on Sunday.
"I always felt like I could move and play good everywhere," Teichmann said. "I guess it looks more natural on clay because I probably spent, as a kid, more hours on clay. I'm sliding good, but that doesn't change anything on hard court. For example, I feel like my serve is much better on hard court than on clay. I get my free points, I'm not gonna complain about that."
After an incredible start to the season on the hardcourts, Teichmann would go through a five-month battle with a variety of injuries. Finally healthy again, Teichmann has played Cincinnati as if she was shot out of a cannon. When she beat Bernarda Pera in the second round this week, it was the first time she won back-to-back matches since Dubai. With that drought finally broken, she's gone on to rout two former No.1s and an Olympic gold medalist, all while outhitting some of the best offensive players in the world.
"[The final is] actually going to be a little bit different kind of match for me," Teichmann said. "I have had a lot of hard hitters - actually all of them were hard hitters this week - so yeah, I'm really looking forward for it."
Expect a grueling and intelligent chess match when Barty and Teichmann face off for the first time, as both women will have poke and prod to quickly discover and exploit the other's weaknesses. But weaknesses have been few and far between when it comes to both players this week. Barty has not lost a set. Teichmann has lost just one.
"I like these matches where we play, [like] we really play: let's move, we play the angle, we play long, we play short. I think it's gonna be a really nice match."
"Definitely tomorrow I'm going to be the underdog. It's just logic. Anyone playing against Ash is going to be the underdog." -- Courtney Nguyen