“It’s going to be great,” Bianca Andreescu said when she asked about the prospect of facing off against Ash Barty for the first time in the Miami Open final. “Definitely have wanted to play her. I have my chance on Saturday.”
Andreescu has her chance, and so does the tennis world. Seeing the Canadian and the Australian go up against each other feels like an important moment for the WTA, and for tennis in general. Since 2018, the women’s tour has produced a series of talented young Grand Slam champions in Barty, Andreescu, Naomi Osaka, Sofia Kenin, and Iga Swiatek. What it hasn’t produced so far is a lot of big-stage showdowns between them, or the rivalries that naturally flow from those types of matches.
“I haven’t played her before, haven’t hit with her,” Barty said of Andreescu. “It’s a fresh one for both of us.”
It wasn’t easy for either woman to make it here. Barty was down 2-5 in the third set in her opener against Kristina Kucova, and needed three sets to evade Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka. Andreescu, meanwhile, has won four straight hammer-and-tongs three-setters, over Amanda Anisimova, Garbiñe Muguruza, Sarah Sorribes Tormo, and, in a final-set tiebreaker, Maria Sakkari.
Where Barty has done her work in the daytime, Andreescu has ruled the evenings over the past week. The final is scheduled for Saturday afternoon; will that be a disadvantage for Andreescu, who will have to adjust to day conditions? Maybe, but the forecast in Miami is for 76 degrees, so the heat should be tolerable. More important, at this event Andreescu has shown an ability to ignore any negative circumstances, from a bad back to a brutal 24-hour turnaround, and win anyway.
Barty-Andreescu will also offer a classic contrast in styles and personalities.
Barty is relaxed and mostly undemonstrative. As her fellow Aussies like to say, she gets on with it. Her game is also smooth and easy. She can hit with power on her serve and forehand, alternative between one-handed slice and two-handed drives with her backhand, rush the net on one point and lay back and rally from deep in the court on the next.
Andreescu is intense and expressive. She likes matches to be played at her deliberate tempo, and she’s good at controlling the pace of play and the emotional atmosphere in an arena. Her game is more modern than Barty’s. She has a two-handed backhand, and she wins by swinging from her heels at the baseline. But she brings her own, idiosyncratic, disruptive variations to the game: a deceptive forehand drop shot, hard slices from both wings, the occasional moonball followed by a huge forehand. Together, Barty and Andreescu will have a lot of shots to choose from, and guard against.
This week has been a return to prominence for both women. Each won a major in 2019—Barty at Roland Garros, Andreescu at the US Open—but has yet to follow it up. Andreescu has been injured, and Barty has mostly stayed off the road during the pandemic. But they’re here to remind us that they’re still elite, still contenders for the No. 1 ranking, and still a big part of the WTA’s future.
Who’s going to win? Barty should be comfortable to start. She won this event in 2019, and she’ll be in her familiar afternoon slot. It may take Andreescu a little while to adjust to the sun and the heat, and she could be weary after a week’s worth of all-out play; but if survived back-to-backs with Sorribes Tormo and Sakkari, she can probably survive one more match with a day’s rest. If either player has an exploitable element in their game, it’s probably Barty’s one-handed backhand. She can be pinned in that corner, and I’d expect Andreescu to pound that side and look to move forward.
In the past, once Andreescu has dug herself in at a tournament—think Indian Wells, Canada, and the Open in 2019—she’s stayed there to end. And that’s the way she has played in Miami. She has looked tired and frustrated, and has given up leads, but each night she has willed herself across the finish line. I wouldn’t be surprised if Andreescu lets a lead slip in the final. She tends to be motivated by a close scoreline, and to lose a little urgency when she’s in command of it. But she has been waiting to get back to this position for too long not to give it everything she has one more time.