WTA Miami: Ashleigh Barty takes down Aryna Sabalenka to keep title and top-ranking defences alive
Ashleigh Barty kept her title defence in Miami alive after surviving another three-setter to record a second semifinal appearance in a row here. Photo: Michael Reaves

A much-anticipated all-seeded quarterfinal clash at the Miami Open, between two of the world’s top 10 stars, world number one Ashleigh Barty took on Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka in what was their third meeting at a WTA 1000 event, and their sixth overall.

Despite their past four encounters decided in straight sets, three of them going the way of Sabalenka, Australia’s Barty, with her top ranking on the line this Florida fortnight, was determined to keep things that way as she came out on top in a three-setter for her first top-10 win of 2021.

Barty saves break points then grabs decisive break to take first set

Both players took care of their service games to start off the match, with just one going to deuce, in the third game on the Sabalenka serve.

Serving at 2-3, Barty countered problems as a couple of Sabalenka backhand winners saw the top-ranked player go down three break points.

The Aussie star convincingly cancelled out all three break points before delivering two serves out wide, the second of those an ace, to record the gutsy hold of serve, much to her opponent’s dismay.

Three games later, the Belarusian now serving to go up 5-4, she went up 40-15 and Barty looked set to be serving to stay in the set in the next game.

Momentum began to shift, however, Barty zoned in while loose errors started coming off Sabalenka’s end, which saw the former conjure her first break point chance of the match, which went in her favour after a Sabalenka double fault.

The world number one would go on to serve out the set to 30, after 39 minutes of play, doing so with a clean first serve that forced a return error from her opponent.

Sabalenka soars from two points from defeat to snatch second set

The first twelve service games of the second set all went the way of the server, but five break points did come and go, two for Barty and three for Sabalenka.

The Belarusian’s three chances to break came in the eighth game, Barty serving to equalise the score at 4-4, but could not convert either of those as the latter responded with smart play en route to a service hold.

The tiebreak was close to call even though Barty did have a lead of her own on two occasions, first at 3-1 and then 5-4, the latter putting her two points from a semifinal berth.

Sabalenka shows emotions in her three-set tussle against Barty in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open. Photo: Mark Reaves
Sabalenka shows emotions in her three-set tussle against Barty in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open. Photo: Michael Reaves

From here, Sabalenka found another gear of her own, unleashing a forehand winner, her 30th of the match, and a Barty forehand sailing long next meant that the 22-year-old now has a set point, on her serve.

The Belarusian took her chance, as a Barty backhand slice went long. to send the match to a decider, in what will be their first three-setter since their first meeting at the Australian Open three years ago.

Barty finishes the match in style for second Miami semifinal

After three service holds to begin the deciding set, with Sabalenka now serving at 1-2, Barty carved out a 0-30 opening after Sabalenka hit a backhand wide followed by a double fault.

Responding with strong serves, the Belarusian claimed the service hold, with Barty producing a love service hold after to lead 3-2.

The following Sabalenka service game saw her in danger once more as a couple of errors gave Barty two break points but the 24-year-old was denied both opportunities after Sabalenka produced two forehand winners, eventually equalising the set at three games apiece.

From here, the world number one stepped her foot on the gas as the Belarusian began to show signs of an abdominal struggle and could not quite recover from this.

Barty dropped just one more point, via a double fault, in taking the last three games to win 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3 in two hours and 16 minutes.

Barty celebrates after converting match point to take out Sabalenka. Photo: Michael Reaves
Barty celebrates after converting match point to take out Sabalenka. Photo: Michael Reaves

Sabalenka, despite coming up short at the tail end of the match, was the clear aggressor throughout, striking 12 aces to her her opponent’s seven, and recording a greater first serve percentage (66 against 64).

Unleashing 12 more winners than Barty, 40 to 28, the Belarusian’s weakness, however, was seen in her unforced error count which more than doubled the former’s, 47 to 22, while failing to convert all seven break point chances she had in the contest.

Another key to the Aussie’s win was her success rate in points behind the second delivery as amassed 26 points won out of 38 (68%) against Sabalenka’s much more meagre 41% (14 of 34).

Up next

Barty has two consecutive wins over Belarussian opposition to account for this fortnight, having moved past Sabalenka’s older compatriot Victoria Azarenka, the 14th seed, in the previous round, the Aussie’s path to the final pits her against fifth seed Elina Svitolina next.

The Ukrainian, despite not looking her best this tournament, did scrap past the likes of Shelby Rogers and Petra Kvitova to make the last eight, where she claimed her most straightforward win here thus far, beating Latvian veteran Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-2.

It will be the fifth time in five matches in Miami this year where Barty meets a player of Slavic descent, and her fourth in succession against one representing a former SSR state.