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Ashleigh Barty solves Sabalenka, puts No. 1 pressure on Osaka in Miami
Top seed and defending champion Ashleigh Barty secured a third three-set thriller at the Miami Open, weathering a storm from No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka to reach the semifinals.
Published Mar 30, 2021
Ashleigh Barty is making a strong case to retain her No. 1 ranking at the Miami Open, weathering a relentless barrage from Aryna Sabalenka to subdue the No. 7 seed, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3.
The defending champion must make the final to assure herself of a continued reign atop the WTA rankings, and battled through a third three-setter of the fortnight Tuesday to reach the semifinals after two hours and 16 minutes on Grandstand court.
"It's an amazing thing to be No. 1 in the world at the moment, but I promise you that's not what makes me happy," Barty clarified in her post-match press conference.
"Whether I'm No. 1 or No. 10 or I'm anything in between or whatever number it is, that number for me doesn't determine if I'm a happy person or a happy tennis player. I come out here and I just work hard. I try and do the best that I can. I know that if I do that I sleep well at night and the sun comes up tomorrow."
Sabalenka came into the match with plenty of upset potential, having won her last three WTA meetings with Barty dating back to 2018. The Belarusian dismissed former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova with the loss of just three games in the previous round and applied her power game early on against Barty, striking a few brutal backhands to earn break points on the Aussie’s serve.
The top seed, who defeated Sabalenka’s countrywoman and former doubles partner Victoria Azarenka to reach the quarterfinal, saved all three in succession and soon proved more clutch when it came to closing out the opening set—securing it with an impeccable serve.
"We all prepare in a way, and we are all, I feel like, in pretty good nick to be able to come out here and play. I think it just comes down to a few points here and there. I think that's all that match was today. I don't save a break point in the first set, it probably goes the other way, and there is very, very fine margins in that match today."
Sabalenka lost a pair of dramatic three-setters in the Middle East Swing to Garbiñe Muguruza, and guaranteed a similar epic when she forced a second set against her higher-ranked rival, twice rallying from mini-break deficits and leveled the match when an over-cooked Barty slice floated wide.
"I think we both had very few break points," Barty said. "I think there were probably a couple of games, particularly in that first set, I was down Love-40 in one of them and even a couple of games 15-30s, 30-All points. At big points I felt I was able to produce some of my better stuff.
"That's what we are after. That's what you're always trying to do. But on the other hand, as well, I felt like Aryna did that exceptionally well today. We were both able to serve our way out of trouble at times. To be able to just get a couple of breaks, that was all that the match kind of needed, really."
Undaunted by the reversal in fortune, Barty made it through the entire match without dropping serve, saving a total of seven break points and reeled off 12 of the final 13 points as Sabalenka flagged in the Florida humidity, seeming to struggle with an upper abdominal injury.
"I think at the end, last probably two games I noticed she was grabbing at something. I'm not sure what it was, but she then tried to take a few more risks, but I feel like as well that was probably a build-up of pressure over the match and maybe physically, as well. I can't really comment on how she's feeling."
In all, the Aussie played a cleaner match, striking 28 winners to 22 unforced errors; while Sabalenka made 40 winners of her own, a combination of 47 unforced errors undoubtedly hindered her effort at the upset, an unsuccessful break point conversion rate, and physical struggles ultimately proved her undoing.
Standing between Barty and a second Miami Open final will be the winner of Tuesday evening’s quarterfinal clash between No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina and Anastasija Sevastova. Barty and Svitolina last played at the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, where the 24-year-old ended the Ukrainian's title defense to capture her first WTA Finals crown.
"Obviously against Svitolina we have had some exceptional battles in big tournaments. I think that test will be no different, another big match. She's figured her way out through this draw very well. If I do play her, it's another battle. I have to bring my very best to beat her.
"For Sevastova, I had actually completely forgotten that we played before. I think that match was in Charleston...Yeah, she's got the ability to move the ball all around the court and probably a very different match-up to what it would be against Svitolina.
"Both will be very, very challenging in different ways, and I have to kind of prepare and absolutely bring my best to be able to compete."