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Barty beats Pliskova for Miami Open title

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Amid the unpredictable swirl of this year’s tennis results, with 33 different champions in 33 tournaments, Ashleigh Barty provides a change of pace.

The crafty 5-foot-5 Australian mixes backhand slices and drop shots with a deceptively strong serve and a knack for attacking, which is how she won the Miami Open.

Barty had a career-high 15 aces and became the newest 2019 titlist on the ATP and WTA circuits by beating Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (1), 6-3 Saturday.

That means there still has not been a repeat champion this year among the men or women.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Barty said. “On the women’s side, I think the level has evened out a lot, and the depth has grown over the last few years. Everyone in the draw has a legitimate chance of winning the tournament, and you try to make the most of it.”

In Miami, Barty did. The former professional cricket player won her fourth tennis title and the biggest of her career to improve to 18-3 this year. At age 22, she’ll rise next week to a career-high ranking of No. 9.

Barty became the fifth different Miami Open women’s champion in the past five years, and she’s the 14th different WTA titlist in 2019.

Roger Federer could become tennis’ first repeat champion this year when he plays John Isner in the men’s final Sunday. Federer won Dubai early this month.

Barty’s large repertoire of shots is both entertaining and effective, and she kept a weary Pliskova off balance while finding the open court for 41 winners.

“I’ve always tried to bring as much variety to the court as possible,” Barty said. “It’s about trying to neutralize what your opponent is doing. There was a phase in women’s tennis of big power and first strikers, but physicality in tennis has grown, which has allowed more players to neutralize the big first ball and work their way into the point.”

Barty can strike quickly, too. Her surprising serve was superior in the final even though Pliskova is 8 inches taller at 6-foot-1.

The Aussie won a 14-stroke rally with a nifty backhand drop shot to go up 2-1 in the tiebreaker, and she was ahead the rest of the way. She outlasted Pliskova in a 20-point game to break at the start of the second set, smacked three consecutive aces for a 3-1 lead, and won eight of the final nine points.

Pliskova, seeded fifth, blamed her fade on fatigue. Because of rain delays, her semifinal win over No. 2-seeded Simona Halep lasted until early Friday morning, and she looked flat-footed in the final.

“Run, run,” Pliskova’s coach, Conchita Martinez, implored during a changeover.

“I was tired, super tired,” Pliskova said. “If I felt a little bit more fresh, it could maybe be different.”

Barty made sure Pliskova never got her second wind, striking from all over the court. Among the Aussie’s most acrobatic shots was a leaping overhead winner struck while backpedaling in pursuit of a lob. The crowd loved it, and so did she.

“It’s pretty cool to have played such a good match today in a big situation,” she said.

Barty won the Wimbledon girls’ title in 2011 at age 15, but gave up tennis to play professional cricket in Brisbane before returning to the tour in 2016.

This year she lost in the final at Sydney, a moment she listed as the most painful in her career. Less than three weeks later she reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open.

“That’s why I love the sport,” Barty said. “You have these amazing moments, and you have these heartbreaking moments. But the journey in the middle is pretty bloody good.”

Nadal gets his revenge over Tsitsipas to reach Rome final

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ROME (AP) After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Rafael Nadal looked more like his old, dominant self when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 Saturday to reach the Italian Open final.

It was a measure of revenge for Nadal after losing to Tsitsipas in three sets at this stage in Madrid last week. The victory should also restore Nadal’s confidence as he seeks a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.

“I’m playing better every match, every weekend,” Nadal said.

Aiming for a ninth trophy in Rome, Nadal’s opponent in Sunday’s final will be either Novak Djokovic or Diego Schwartzman, who were playing later.

Nadal is in the middle of his longest title drought to begin a season since he came onto the scene in 2004. His last trophy came in Toronto last August.

The crowd attempted to encourage Tsitsipas with chants of “Tsi-Tsi-Tsi; Pas-Pas-Pas” but the 20-year-old Greek player couldn’t keep up with Nadal on the long rallies – even though he didn’t play a day earlier after Roger Federer withdrew from the quarterfinals.

Conditions were much slower than on the high-altitude court in Madrid, which favored Nadal and made it tougher for Tsitsipas to execute his attacking game.

Midway through the first set, Nadal produced an awesome forehand winner up the line on the run, drawing a loud roar from the packed Campo Centrale crowd.

Nadal broke Tsitsipas’ serve early in both sets.

In the women’s tournament, Johanna Konta rallied past sixth-seeded Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 in nearly three hours to reach the biggest clay-court final of her career.

Konta’s only previous final on clay came recently in Rabat, Morocco, where she lost the title match to Maria Sakkari.

Konta could get a rematch with Sakkari if the Greek qualifier beats fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the other semifinal.

Midway through the first set, Konta surprised Bertens with a drop shot winner during a baseline rally, causing Bertens to fall on her stomach to the clay as she rapidly changed directions. Then in the next game, Konta ran down a drop shot and produced an angled winner.

Bertens was coming off the Madrid Open title.

“She played really smart with the drop shots,” Bertens said. “I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But it was not there.”

The 42nd-ranked Konta served for the first set at 5-4 but was broken at love. But Bertens double faulted to let Konta serve for the second set and Konta got an early break in the third.

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John Isner out of French Open with injury

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PARIS — John Isner has pulled out of the French Open because of an injured left foot, ending his streak of 24 consecutive appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.

The 34-year-old Isner announced his withdrawal Friday on Twitter.

He is ranked No. 11, the top American man, but has not competed since hurting his foot during the Miami Open final March 31.

Isner was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year, his best Grand Slam performance. He hasn’t missed a major since the 2013 Australian Open.

He’s reached the fourth round at Roland Garros three times, including in 2018, and is one of only two men to push 11-time champion Rafael Nadal to a fifth set there.

Isner is best known for winning the longest match in tennis history, 70-68 in the fifth set against Nicolas Mahut in Wimbledon’s first round in 2010. The match lasted more than 11 hours over three days.