World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty hadn't played a tournament in nearly a year when she first stepped on court at the Yarra Valley Classic this week. You wouldn't know it after Sunday in Melbourne.
For the second year running, Barty heads into the Australian Open with a title on home soil after cooling off Garbine Muguruza, 7-6 (3), 6-4. The victory marked the 24-year-old's ninth career title and first since triumphing at Adelaide.
"There's a checklist yes and no. Obviously we want to stick to our processes and get the right things in place, try and do the right things right from the get-go. I feel we were able to do that, particularly today," Barty told press afterwards. "It was some of the better tennis I played throughout the whole week. Garbine forced me to play at that level.
"It was a great final. Yeah, happy with the progression of the level of tennis through the week."
The sixth-seeded Muguruza served for the opening set at 5-4, but was broken at 15 when her backhand sailed long. In the ensuing tie-break, Barty's variety as on full display: her slicing, power on the run and deft touch all led her to pull away.
In the second set, the Australian let a break advantage slip, but recovered to win the final three games. Muguruza could only watch as the top seed's perfectly carved forehand lob landed in to end the contest.
Barty has now won three of four meetings with the Spaniard; her last win of 2020 came against Muguruza in the Doha quarterfinals. Barty would opt out of the remainder of the season when the WTA reopened at the end of July.
For Muguruza, last year's Australian Open runner-up, her week may have ended on a losing note but there are plenty of positives to take away. In her four wins, which included exacting revenge over Sofia Kenin, the two-time major winner conceded just 10 games.
"It was a very, very good week, good performances, good matches. I normally don't play the week before, but I'm taking a lot of positives from this week," said Muguruza.
Both Muguruza and Barty will begin their bids at the Happy Slam on Tuesday. Barty faces Danka Kovnic and Muguruza meets Margarita Gasparyan