Barty’s back: World No.1 completes perfect Open prep
Ash Barty is officially back.
The Australian world No.1 completed a perfect return to the WTA Tour on Sunday, with a 7-6(3) 6-4 defeat of Spain's Garbine Muguruza in the Yarra Valley Classic final at Melbourne Park.
It's Barty's ninth career title and she has now won at least one in five consecutive years, after Serena Williams handed her a semi-final walkover.
She hadn't played competitively in about 11 months, after choosing not to travel during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but her form built nicely throughout the week.
"We're incredibly grateful to be out here playing," Barty said on court after her win.
"To all Melburnians, I feel for you guys. It's been an exceptionally tough six, seven months and I have a lot of friends and family here.
"To my team, we've been through thick and thin and it's been a little while between drinks for us, but I'm enjoying every second.
"I couldn't get (back) on court quick enough in the last few weeks."
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Barty now heads into the Australian Open chock-full of confidence, particularly after accounting for a high-quality opponent who conceded only 10 games in four previous wins.
Where most of the 24-year-old's main rivals make a habit of meting out winners with brute power, she's always relied on an equal dose of guile.
Barty's forehand failed her early in Sunday's final, as Muguruza raced to a 3-1 advantage, but her trusty backhand slice - her most unsuspecting weapon - and renowned court craft proved crucial in the tide turning.
She started running Muguruza ragged, and her more patient approach also paved the way for her forehand to join the party.
It helped that while Barty's backhand thrived, the errors flowed from the same wing at the other end of the court.
Muguruza had committed 13 backhand unforced errors to Barty's two at one stage during the first-set tiebreak.
The Spaniard still served for the opening set - after Barty gave up a break against the flow in the ninth game - but awkwardly dragged a crosscourt backhand wide to hand the advantage straight back.
The eventual tiebreak was largely one-way traffic, and Barty's surge extended into the second set, where she snatched a 2-0 edge.
Muguruza lifted enough to draw level at 3-3, but Barty's backhand was again pivotal in what proved the match-deciding moment.
With Muguruza facing an 11th break point, Barty opened the court with her backhand before driving a piercing forehand winner down the line to go ahead 5-4.
Barty slammed down her 10th and 11th aces, then an exquisite forehand lob completed the deal.
The numbers told the story at match's end, with Muguruza hitting just 14 winners to 40 unforced errors, compared to Barty's 28 and 32
Originally published as Barty's back: World No.1 completes perfect Open prep