BARTY VS. KONTAVEIT PREVIEW: FINESSE AGAINST POWER
By Tucker Verdi
Miami Gardens, FL — No. 12 seed Ashleigh Barty and No. 21 seed Anett Kontaveit will be the first out on court Thursday to decide who will play in the final of the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú. The match is scheduled to begin at 1:00PM ET.
A contrast of styles will be on display in the early afternoon on Stadium Court. It will be a big game versus a crafty game. Flat and hard across from slice and dice. Hit hard for every point compared to work hard for every point. Power against finesse.
Anett Kontaveit has worked hard to achieve the distinction of being a Miami Open finalist. Quietly and in the shadow of a sea of rising and falling talent in the women’s game who have been brasher and flashier, the Estonian has risen into the top 15 of the world rankings. In 2018, she had herself a year to remember, reaching the fourth round of two Grand Slams, the semis in Rome, and the final at the Wuhan Open.
She has been a tough out this entire tournament, going the distance in three of her four matches in Miami. Her one reprieve — a fourth round match against Bianca Andreescu that ended two games into the second set when an exhausted and fatigued Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury. The reigning champ in Indian Wells was the third straight big-hitter Kontaveit had faced, after overcoming Amanda Anisimova and Ajla Tomljanovic in tight matches. Maybe her strike-first style of play only matches up against similar styles — then came Hsieh Su-wei.
The fiendish No. 27 seed worked Kontaveit all around the court, exposing her explosive shot-making prowess and continually getting the better of the 23-year-old. But Kontaveit dug herself out of each and every hole she was put in, coming back from 1-5 down in the third set to advance.
Enter Barty, a crafty yet more conventional player than Hsieh. Her slice game is perhaps unrivaled in the women’s game, and compared by the most recent to fall to it — Petra Kvitova — to some of the best in the men’s game.
Barty breezed through her first two rounds in Miami, beating Dayana Yastremska and compatriot Sam Stosur in straight sets each, losing only eight games compared to the 24 she won. Things got a little tougher against No. 7 seed Kiki Bertens in the fourth round, but Barty engineered a comeback to win in three sets.
Then came the most difficult challenge yet — a third meeting with Kvitova this year alone. The No. 3 seed had beaten her twice in January, both matches taking place in Barty’s home country of Australia. But despite being down 1-5 in the first set tiebreak, and despite getting walloped in the second set 6-3, Barty continued to frustrate and take the racket out of the hands of the powerful Czech, scoring her first win against the two-time WImbledon Champ.
Kontaveit and Barty, each assured a new career-high ranking come Monday, will be fighting for even more — a Miami Open final and an affirmation of either power trumping finesse, or finesse undoing power.
Their semifinal matchup is the second head-to-head match between the two, having encountered each other in the third round of qualifying for the 2014 Wimbledon Championships, which Kontaveit won in three sets. Suffice it to say that match will have little relevance going into Thursday, as a lot has undoubtedly changed in the last five years for both players.
A lot will continue to change for these young tennis stars, both on the cusp of the biggest stage they have ever commanded. What a match it should be.