Melbourne, Aus—No.1 Ashleigh Barty rolled pass No.6 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 7-6(3), 6-4, to win her ninth career WTA singles title. It is Barty’s second career title on her home court (2019 Adelaide) at the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne.
Barty hasn’t left Australia since the Covid-19 outbreak became a global pandemic. Instead of playing in the U.S. Open or trying to defend her French Open title, Ashleigh spent her time practicing, playing golf, and watching her favorite football team win the Australian Football League.
“It was some of the better tennis I played throughout the whole week,” Barty said, in her post-match media conference. “Garbiñe forced me to play at that level. It was a great final.”
Barty and Muguruza played each other three times previously, with the Australian taking two out of those matches, including in the 2020 Doha quarterfinals — the most recent event Barty played on the WTA circuit before this week.
All of their previous matches went three sets, but this time around, it was Barty who won in straight sets with a 1-hour, 44-minute triumph. Barty’s 28 winners, including 11 aces, doubled Muguruza’s winner count on the evening.
“Today I had to try and neutralize as best I can, then get on the front foot as soon as I could,” Barty said. “It’s not always just about the tennis sometimes, it’s about how you can control the court.
Muguruza had lost only 10 games — never more than two in a set — in her previous four straight-set victories at the tournament, including a 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win over 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.
The two-time major winner got the first break of serve to lead 3-1 before Barty broke back. Muguruza broke again and had a chance to serve for the first set, before Barty regained her composure and started to roll.
“I felt like I moved great today and was able to squeeze the court a lot of the times, make Garbiñe press a little bit, which was an important part of the match.”
Barty opened the match with a service game that contained three aces, but that did not hinder Muguruza from winning the following game on her return and move ahead 2-1. Barty kept within striking distance, with her strong forehands to tie the contest at 3-3.
Muguruza powered to another break and led 5-4, but the Spaniard could not serve out the set as Barty leveled the tilt again. The two competitors moved into a tiebreak where Barty raced out to a commanding 4-0 lead. Ashleigh held on from there, clinching the opener with another rally forehand winner.
The Australian used her slice backhand and drop shots to keep Muguruza moving around the court all game long, mixed some powerful forehands with variety — clinching the match with a lob.
“Overall it was a pretty solid performance,” Barty said. “I’m still my harshest critic at times. That’s the challenge of sport every day, is trying to get better and better.”
Barty didn’t play competitive tennis in almost a year. It seems like she didn’t miss a step.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the year that I have had — there was nothing but positive vibes. Now I’m really happy to be back playing tennis with an opportunity to play in front of a crowd here at the Australian Open. It’s really special.”
Barty will get the day off Monday because the bottom half of the Australian Open women’s draw will be played on the first day, featuring Serena Williams starting another bid for a record 24th Grand Slam singles title, No. 3-ranked Naomi Osaka and No. 2-ranked Simona Halep.
Elise Mertens got passed Kaia Kanepi 6-4, 6-1 to win the Gippsland Trophy title, her sixth tour title and second at the WTA 500 level.
The 25-year-old Belgian has won 27 matches since the tour restarted in August, more than any other player on the women’s circuit in that time.
RUSSIA WINS ATP CUP
At Rod Laver Arena, No. 4-ranked Daniil Medvedev improved his winning streak to 14 matches and secured Russia’s 2-0 win over Italy in the ATP Cup final when he beat Matteo Berrettini 6-4, 6-2.
Andrey Rublev had given Russia a commanding start with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini.
Russia didn’t lose a singles match during the group stage or the playoffs, and is the second team to win the ATP Cup after Novak Djokovic led Serbia to the inaugural title last year.
EVANS WINS FIRST TITLE
Dan Evans won his first ATP title by beating third-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-2, 6-3 in the Murray River Open final.
It was another step on the career ladder for Evans, who wasted three match points the last time he reached a final.
“My team has been there through some not so good times, so thanks for that,” he said.
He is seeded 30th for the Australian Open and will play fellow British player Cameron Norrie in the first round.
The 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime is still seeking his first title, having lost all seven finals he has played on the ATP tour.
Fourth-seeded Jannik Sinner beat Stefano Travaglia 7-6 (4), 6-4 to win the Great Ocean Road Open, earning the 19-year-old Italian back-to-back titles on tour following his victory at Sofia late last year.
Sinner is going to have to recover quickly, with a first-round match against No. 11-seeded Denis Shapovalov at the Australian Open on Monday.