CINCINNATI, OH, USA - Top seed Ashleigh Barty maneuvered past a major opening-round hurdle at the Western & Southern Open on Wednesday, needing two sets to take down former champion Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-1.
Last week, Barty suffered her first opening-round defeat in over a year when she fell to an in-form Sofia Kenin at Toronto, contesting her first match since Wimbledon. The French Open winner was keen to avoid that same fate today, even as the draw dealt her one of the toughest openers in the form of wildcard Sharapova, who previously lifted the trophy here in 2011.
Barty recovered from a break down in the first set, and then never looked back as she fought through to a straight sets win in an hour and 27 minutes.
“I mean, it was certainly no panic sessions after last week,” Barty told press after the match. “I knew I was a little bit underdone going into Toronto and certainly had no worries or concerns there.
“I feel like I have been striking the ball really well over the last seven or eight days. I found my groove a little bit more… Then it was just going out there trying to execute playing against one of the best competitors of the world and making sure I had to be there present and ready for every single point.”
It was Barty and Sharapova’s third career meeting, and a rematch of the pair’s Australian Open clash - Barty willed herself back from a set down and took out Sharapova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, to reach the quarterfinals.
Barty might have felt a bit of deja vu in Cincinnati, as Sharapova flew out of the gates, building up a 3-1 lead. But unlike in Melbourne, Barty was right back in it a few games later to break back at 3-3.
“I think it was important for me after probably not a great start in my first couple service games to bring back the momentum a little bit,” Barty said. “And early in that second set I knew it was really important to start again, start the match fresh again and really focus on those first few games.”
From there, it was all Barty, who used her variety and pace to frustrate Sharapova into unforced errors. The pair stayed on serve until Barty, with the scoreboard in her favor at 5-4, got one final break of the Sharapova serve to take the opening set.
She kept up that rhythm in the second set, where she powered ahead to an early break at 2-0. Barty had to put up a mighty resistance as Sharapova charged back a game later, looking to grab the break right back - but Barty fought off four break points in a marathon game to hold for 3-0. That seemed to be the tipping point of the match for Sharapova, who won just one game after that as Barty powered through to reach the third round.
Barty recorded 18 winners to 21 unforced errors against Sharapova, who lagged behind with 16 winners and 31 unforced errors. The Aussie was having a better serving day than Sharapova, winning 81% of points behind the first serve compared to 58%. As a result, Barty was more decisive in the big moments, winning four of seven break points, while Sharapova converted just one of seven.
The victory is Barty’s 40th win of the season, and it extends her impressive win-loss record to 40-7, one of the best on the tour behind Kiki Bertens (41-16).
“Very clean game, very strong game across the board,” Barty applauded. “There aren't too many flaws in her game at all. I think she's a great ball striker. When she's inside the court and in control can be very dangerous.
“I think for me it's important to try and bring in my variety as much as I can, make sure I move well and make her play a lot of balls and try and spread the court as much as possible. Also accepting she's having one of the best years of her life and is playing some really good tennis.
“It will be tough either way, but it's about going out there and approaching it the right way regardless of the result, just trying to do the best that I can.”