Barty sets a diabolical trap for Sharapova to secure win in Cincinnati

Barty sets a diabolical trap for Sharapova to secure win in Cincinnati

The top-seeded Aussie used her slice backhand to force the five-time Grand Slam to make no-win decisions.

Ashleigh Barty is the one of the nicest people in tennis, but she set a diabolical trap for Maria Sharapova on Wednesday at the Western & Southern Open.

It began with her slice backhand, a shot that she hits as smoothly and effectively as anyone in tennis. But against the 6’2” Sharapova, it was even more effective than usual. When a rally began today, Barty would send a low, biting underspin backhand across the net. It didn’t have to have much pace or be especially well placed. The point was to force Sharapova to (a) bend down and hit up on the ball to get it over the net; and (b) make a no-win decision about where to put her next shot. If Sharapova went back to Barty’s backhand, she would get another low slice in return; if she went to Barty’s forehand, she risked having the Australian pop her powerful topspin forehand into the corner for a winner.

It was Barty's second straight win against Sharapova. (Getty Images)

Sharapova didn’t play badly for much of this match, but she couldn’t escape that trap. With Barty changing speeds and spins on each shot, Sharapova could never find a rhythm for long; it took her a set and a half to hit a clean, penetrating backhand off a Barty slice. For the match, Sharapova hit 16 winners and made 31 errors, and whenever a big point arrived, she was the one to misfire. Her last stand came with Barty serving at 2-0 in the second set. Four times Sharapova reached break point; on three of them, she missed makable forehands. She finished the match one of seven on break points. Despite some flashes of her old self this week, Sharapova hasn’t put together two wins at an event since the Australian Open, and today she couldn’t find the shots she needed when she needed them most.

While Sharapova spun her wheels, Barty picked up speed and looked more comfortable with each game. Her full range was display today. She bailed herself out with aces. She was precise with her putaway forehand. She won five of six points at net. And she closed with a little bit of old-school flair: With Sharapova serving at 1-4 in the second set and hanging on by a thread, Barty broke her again with a perfectly measured drop shot-topspin lob combination.

The top seed made it look easy, but after early losses at Wimbledon and in Toronto, it was a win she needed.