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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, April 3, 2021

Embarking for Miami in tears, Ashleigh Barty showed no fear capturing her second straight Miami Open crown.

World No. 1 Barty built a 6-3, 4-0 lead in today's final when Bianca Andreescu retired with a right foot injury after crashing to the court one game earlier.

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The top seed collected her 10th career title, improving to 14-2 on the season with a confident, commanding performance in a blockbuster battle of Grand Slam champions. Barty defended a title for the first time in her career, solidifying her status as world No. 1 with her second title in four events this year after missing much of the 2020 season.

"It was a really solid start, really tricky conditions, but obviously never the way you want to win a match or particularly a final," Barty told Tennis Channel's Prakas Amritraj afterward. "I really do feel for Bianca... I said to her at the net I think it's gonnna be the first of many battles for us.

"Hopefully they're healthy battles, but hopefullly it doens't hinder her season too much and she's back out on the court soon."

Barty bolted a 108 ace down the middle seizing a 4-0 lead when a tearful Andreescu pulled the plug suffering a right foot or ankle injury. Despite the premature ending to a spirited run from the 20-year-old Canadian, both players departed court hoping this is a preview of what could be a riveting rally between two all-court artists. 

"I hope that you recover well and this doesn't hinder your season too much," Barty told Andreescu afterward. "It was a privilege sharing the court with you for the first time, I'm sure the very first of many, and we'll have many more good, hopefully healthy matches in the fugure. So congratulations on another great week."

It was Barty's 12th consecutive victory in Miami Gardens coming two years after she charged through four consecutive games sealing a 7-6 (1), 6-3 triumph over Karolina Pliskova in the 2019 Miami Open final.

The 24-year-old Aussie is the sixth woman to successfully defend the Miami Open in the 36-year-history of the event joining an esteemed collection of champions that includes Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Venus Williams and Serena Williams as a repeat champion.

Spare a thought for 2019 US Open champion Andreescu, who missed the entire 2020 season after suffering a torn meniscus, and showed her fighting spirited and entertaining all-court style battling through to her first Miami Open final. 

The 20-year-old Andreescu fought through four straight three-set wins, including recovering from 2-4 down in the final set to out-duel Maria Sakkari in the semifinals. Andreescu showed the skills that make her a Top 5-talent, the question is can her body withstand the physical style she brings to court?

"Ash it was amazing sharing the court with you—you are an incredible player and amazing human being," Andreescu said during the on-court trophy presentation. "It was amazing to share the court with you.

"Definitely not the way I wanted to end the tournament. I'm super grateful nonetheless. I got to the final of one of my first tournaments and I couldn't be more happy for me getting back on my feet wasn't easy but I continued to believe in myself and I never gave up. So to everyone out there who's going through a tough time like me right now I just want to say keep your head up and continue to believe in yourself."

Tugging on her vanilla Fila cap, Barty thumped stinging first serves backing up the opening break at love for 3-0.

Netting a return, Andreescu admonished herself "Bibi, come on!" trying to spark some life into her game in the fifth game. Increasing intensity and the depth of her drives, Andreescu earned break-back point, but Barty denied it. You could hear a wind gust through the court-side microphone before Barty missed the mark on a diagonal forehand as Andreescu broke back.

Sculptors' feel and shared creative court sense was on display as Barty lifted a lob coaxing Andreescu into a leaping high backhand overhead—toughest shot in tennis—that the Canadian made, but Barty was there to bolt a crosscourt backhand breaking back in the sixth game.

The reigning champion's superior serve saw her impose her second love hold of the set extending to 5-2.

The ace leader of the women's tournament, Barty can dot all areas of the service box with slice or kick. Navigating a 15-30 deficit, Barty slashed an ace down the T for a second set point. Dancing around her backhand, the top seed buried a side-spinning forehand into the corner closing the opening set.

Playing proactive tennis on pivotal points, Barty won 15 of 20 first-serve points in the 35-minute opener while Andreescu, playing her first day match of the tournament, was battling through service games winning nine of 18 first-serve points.

Long-distance duels have both challenged and invigorated the spirited Canadian—eight of Andreescu's prior 11 matches had gone the distance this season—but she knew she needed a quick spark against a formidable front-runner.

Andreescu squandered a lead slapping a forehand into net and double faulting to start the second set conceding the break.

Shuffling to her right, Andreesu's right toe stuck on the gritty hard court, she seemed to strain her right foot she crashed the court causing a silent hush over the crowd. Andreescu climbed off the court and continued to compete asking the chair umpire to summon the trainer.

During her sabbatical from the pro circuit last summer, Barty spent a lot of time on the golf course—her father, Robert, is an excellent player and her partner, Garry, a club pro—watching her control the court is like watching an experienced golfer manage a course.

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In an era of baseline bashers, Barty brings more racquet skills, subtle shifting of spins and nuance to the game. She showed all of it, carving out a touch angled  backhand volley to open the court before bumping a forehand volley into the open court breaking again for 3-0.

Following about a six-and-a-half-minute medical timeout in which the trainer taped up Andreescu's right foot and ankle, play resumed. The ninth-ranked Canadian couldn't really push off her foot, however, and after Barty slashed an ace, a tearful Andreescu retired at the 62-minute mark.

It was a quick close to a complicated odyssey. Barty conceded she shed tears flying from Brisbane to Miami last month knowing she may not return home until the end of this season.

A defiant Barty denied a match point sparking a surge of five straight games to subdue 149th-ranked qualifier Kristina Kucova 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 to survive a gripping Miami Open opener and declared a simple mission statement after that compelling comeback.

"Just never give up. Honestly you have to be in the fight to have a chance,"Barty said. "It's about trying to just chip away over and over. You know, matches like that are extremely fulfilling, I think, knowing that you have done the work over an extended period to kind of just get over the edge and just get that result that you're after."

She did all that and more defending Miami.


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