Sport

Barty beats injured Andreescu to claim Miami Open title for second time

The world No 1 Ashleigh Barty defended her Miami Open title in less than ideal circumstances after Bianca Andreescu was forced to retire from their final following an ankle sprain in the second set as Barty led 6-3, 4-0.

Barty had opened the match with a faultless display of attacking tennis for an hour, dominating with her serve and forehand as she moved to a 6-3, 2-0 lead. However, as Andreescu attempted to hold off a double break in the second set, she tumbled while chasing a ball and turned her right ankle. After a medical timeout, she eventually retired.

“It’s brutal,” said Barty. “It’s never the way you want to finish a tennis match. I just feel for Bianca. She’s had a lot of injuries in her very young career and it’s held her back in some of the biggest moments. I hope for me it’s the first of many battles for us but you never like to see her injured at all.”

The match itself was almost more significant than the result as two of the brightest young stars simultaneously rediscovered their top form in Miami after long hiatuses. Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, tore her meniscus in the final tournament of the 2019 season and disappeared for 15 months. Barty, who won Roland Garros that year and took the No 1 ranking, missed a year after deciding not to travel during the early stages of the pandemic. This marked the first meeting in what could form a defining rivalry of the decade.

Both Barty and Andreescu are blessed with a vast, deep toolbox of shots that they use to disrupt and smother opponents but it was Barty’s tactical clarity that triumphed. She immediately stamped her authority on the match, flitting to an early break lead and never looking back.

Barty has returned from her hiatus with more pace on her first serve and her ability to constantly create free points and easy forehands contrasted with Andreescu, whose ineffective serve forced her to work hard for every point. Barty finished with 81% first serve points won, dropping serve just once.

The triumph marks an appropriate return to the biggest stages of the sport for Barty. After saving a match point in her opening match against Kristina Kucova, she finished the week with three consecutive top-10 wins against Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina and Andreescu. Her title defence means she has won 15 of her first 17 matches upon her return, with two titles, and she maintains a vast lead over Naomi Osaka in the No 1 spot. She is unlikely to be caught before Roland Garros.

Andreescu, whose young career has been defined as much by injuries as her prodigious talent, was tearful as she conceded the match and then she immediately embraced her team. Afterwards, she noted that she does not want to have a reputation for being injury prone, but that may be too late. It is clear that while her talent is undeniable, her health will dictate her future. Her injury history was itself a reason why she decided to retire at the suggestion of her fitness trainer, Abdul Sillah.

“I have been through that, just continuously pushing myself and to the point where I’d make it worse,” said Andreescu. “Yeah, he just saved me from myself. I said, I don’t want to. But I trusted him. I knew it was the best decision.”