By Daniel Perissé
World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty had to work hard to defeat Slovakian qualifier Kristina Kucova 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 in the beginning of her title defense at the Miami Open presented by Itaú this Thursday, March 25th. The Australian was down 5-2 in the final set and even saved a match point.
Barty began playing well and had no issues to win the first set 6-3, with an 83.3% of first serve points won. However, Kucova had 100% of her break points converted in the second set and leveled the match.
The Australian had a lot of unforced errors and was down 5-2 in the final set. Barty leveled 5-5, broke Kucova’s serve in the 11th game and then confirmed hers to settle the win in almost two and a half hours. This was the World No. 1’s first WTA match outside of her native country this year.
“You have to be in the fight to have a chance. Matches like that are extremely fulfilling. Today was much more about the fight than the result,” affirmed the World No. 1.
In the next round, Barty will face 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko, who also needed three sets to defeat lucky loser Kristen Flipkens, from Belgium, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. The Latvian converted six out of eight break points and clinched the result in almost two hours.
This will be the fourth match between Barty and Ostapenko. The Australian leads the overall head-to-head 2-1. The winner will book a meeting with Angelique Kerber or Viktoria Azarenka in the fourth round.
Azarenka went straight to the third round due to the withdrawal of Germany’s Laura Siegemund, while Kerber cruised past Mexican qualifier Renata Zarazua 6-0, 6-0 in a result that surprised the three-time Grand Slam winner.
“I mean, okay, the score, it’s a little bit different than the match was, because it was really like few games are, like, really close and tough. To be honest, I never played against her, so I really don’t have the idea how she is playing”, said the German about the “double bagel”.
The former World No. 1 looks forward to facing Azarenka again: “I know it’s another hard battle against her. But this is why I’m here and to try to play good matches against the best, yeah, players. You know, it will be a good match”, she added.
Also today, 2018 US Open finalist Madison Keys lost the opening match on Grandstand to qualifier Ana Konjuh 6-4, 6-2. The 23-year-old Croatian reached the top 20 in 2017 but had some serious physical problems – which led her to four surgeries.
Konjuh’s next opponent will be 2020 French Open Champion Iga Swiatek, from Poland. The No. 15 seed edged past Czech Barbora Krejcikova, the Dubai finalist this year, 6-4, 6-2.
On Court 1, No. 5 Elina Svitolina needed three sets to defeat American Shelby Rogers 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. The Ukrainian now faces Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, the No. 30 seed, who beat Nadia Podoroska, from Argentina, 6-0, 6-4. “It’s nice to get the win today. It was not a perfect performance from me, but the win is the win”, said Svitolina after the match.