Barty repeats as Miami champ when Andreescu retires

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MIAMI — Ash Barty pushed a forehand winner into the open court as her opponent, Bianca Andreescu, laid on her back in the far corner, injured yet again.

With that, the Miami Open final was decided.

Andreescu limped through 11 more points before she retired, crying, shaking her head and trailing 6-3, 4-0.

The No. 1-ranked Barty won her second successive Miami title Saturday, and the Australian was already in control of the match when Andreescu turned her right foot while hitting a forehand and sprawled to the hard court. Barty hit one more shot to win the point, and play continued.

But during the ensuing changeover, a trainer taped Andreescu’s foot, and after another game the injury-plagued Canadian reluctantly called it quits.

“I really do feel for Bianca,” Barty said. “She has had such a rough trot with injuries in the past.”

Andreescu was again tearful at the start of her postmatch news conference, when she explained that her trainer convinced her to retire rather than risk further injury.

“I didn’t want to stop,” she said. “I trusted him, and I knew it was the best decision.”

The tournament was the first in the United States for the 20-year-old Andreescu since she won the 2019 U.S. Open. She sat out 2020 because of injuries and the coronavirus pandemic and now faces another possible layoff.

“I’m going to see what’s up with my foot, and start visualizing the healing process if it’s something bad,” Andreescu said.

On Sunday, 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner will try to become the youngest men’s champion in tournament history when he plays No. 26-seeded Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. Each is seeking the biggest title of his career.

Barty made her own breakthrough by winning the 2019 Miami championship. The tournament was canceled last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Five other women have earned consecutive Miami titles: Stefanie Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Venus Williams and Serena Williams.

“I shouldn’t belong with that group,” Barty said with a smile. “I haven’t earned the right to be on a list with those champions. They’re genuine champions and legends, and I feel very privileged to be mentioned in that sentence.”

The match between Barty and Andreescu was their first, and a potential friendly rivalry looms. Barty dominated from the start of the final with her strong serve and all-court game.

“She doesn’t play like a lot of the players on tour,” Andreescu said. “She likes to mix it up, like me. That’s not fun to play against. I guess I’m getting a taste of my own medicine.”

Barty was playing outside of Australia for the first time since February 2020, and she arrived in Miami after a trip that took 45 hours because of two canceled flights.

“I said to my coach when we got here, it can only get better from here,” she said.

It did. Barty was one point from defeat in her opening match against Kristina Kucova, but she gained momentum from there and will keep her No. 1 ranking next week.

With the pandemic limiting travel, the 2019 French Open champion heads into the clay court season expecting to remain away from home for months.

“It’s a great start for us,” Barty said. “I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be a big season for us, and hopefully we can play some really good tennis.”

Because the pandemic reduced tournament revenue and severely limited attendance, the champion received $300,110, compared with the $1.35 million Barty won in 2019. Only 750 fans were allowed on the grounds per session.

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.