Partying like it’s 2019, Ashleigh Barty remains undefeated at the Miami Open since the tournament moved to the Hard Rock Stadium, easing into her second straight final after a 6-3, 6-3 demolition of Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.
"Chalk and cheese," Barty said when comparing her last final run. "Very different, I think. The conditions have been very different here this week. It's been a lot warmer.
"Physically, it's been quite demanding. I remember last time we had a lot of rain, a lot of late nights, and a lot of disrupted matches. So it's been a little bit of an adjustment this year, but without a doubt, the quality of tennis has been just as good and just as consistent, which is what obviously you're after in big events and events that extend over—well, we had the two-week event here, that are a little bit longer, but it's all the challenge of trying to do the best you can every time."
Though the top seed arrived in the Sunshine State with her No. 1 ranking under threat from reigning US and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, Barty has stood up to the pressure in style throughout the fortnight, culminating in a nearly 90-minute semifinal victory over the No. 5 seed on Grandstand court.
Barty, who is set to pass Caroline Wozniacki in weeks at No. 1 next Monday, was very nearly out of the tournament in her opening encounter. Forced to save a match point against Kristina Kucova, the Aussie has found her range and survived talented (if combustible) opposition in subsequent victories over Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, and Aryna Sabalenka.
"I think obviously whenever you come back from a match point down, it's a little bit of a strange feeling. It doesn't happen very often. I think you have to be then almost more open with what the possibilities of the rest of the tournament could be. You just keep going out there and keep fighting no matter what, knowing that you could have just as easily been out of the tournament at the previous hurdle.
"So I think you just stick to your processes over and over and try and make the most of the opportunities."
Svitolina’s consistency—and 5-1 head-to-head advantage—could have been problematic for the world No. 1, particularly given the Ukrainian’s marked improvement against the likes of Shelby Rogers and two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.
"Each match that we have played I felt like it's gotten closer and closer," Barty said. "Now the head-to-head is very slowly starting to improve."
Their most recent clash came in the championship match of Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, where Barty definitively turned their rivalry on its head, and continued that pattern on Thursday afternoon, taking a double break lead after five games.
"Elina is an exceptional competitor. She will never give you a free point. She's proven that over an extended period. She's been a top-10 player for a very, very long time. It's sometimes a bit of a fine line when you play her. You have to be aggressive and you have to be able to take some risks.
"Knowing how good of a mover she is and how many balls she makes you play, you're going to make errors. I think it's just about kind of getting that fine line and getting that mix right."
Svitolina struck 13 unforced errors in the first set alone, and though she earned back one of the breaks, was serving under 50% as Barty gamely held off a surge from the 26-year-old to secure the set on her second opportunity.
Barty then left the court to take a medical timeout, but showed no ill-effects from the baseline, emerging from three straight service breaks with a 4-2 lead, one which she ultimately took over the finish line after a scintillating forehand winner—her 24th of the match.
With the WTA rankings beginning to unfreeze, Barty will head into the clay court season in pole position to retain her No. 1 ranking through the start of Roland Garros, where she's scheduled to play for the first time since capturing her maiden major title in Paris two years ago.
Standing between the top seed and a second Miami Open crown will be the winner of the second semifinal between 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu and No. 23 seed Maria Sakkari, who snapped Osaka’s 23-match winning streak in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
"Maria obviously has had an exceptional week," Barty said. "She's one of the best movers out on the court. She's one of the girls who brings extreme physicality to the court. Having played her a few times, I know how difficult those matches are.
"For Bianca, I haven't played her before, haven't hit with her. It's a fresh one for both of us. But she's proven time and time again that she loves the big matches, loves the big tournaments, and has the game and the physicality to win them. Both matches will be different in their own right but no easier, no matter which one it is."
Andreescu and Barty split the Sunshine Swing two years ago, but have never played before, whereas Sakkari has played Barty five times, winning once.