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April 16, 2021

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Ash Barty defiant over No. 1 status after winning Miami Open

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Barty defended her Miami Open title (Picture: Getty)

Ashleigh Barty defended her Miami Open title on Saturday, with her opponent Bianca Andreescu forced to retire from their final, before launching a passionate defence of her status as the sport’s world No. 1.

Barty, the one-time Grand Slam champion from Australia, was in complete control of the match before an ankle sprain for her opponent brought a premature conclusion to the contest at 6-3 4-0.

It was a disappointing end to the first chapter of a rivalry that should be a mainstay of women’s tennis over the next decade but the tournament could prove significant in announcing both of their returns to the top of the sport.

Barty’s status as the best player on the WTA Tour has been challenged after she decided against travelling during the early stages of the pandemic.

Despite not playing for 12 months, Barty remained at the top of the leaderboard due to the adapted rankings system to accommodate those who, understandably, did not feel comfortable trotting around the globe during the Covid crisis.

In that time, Naomi Osaka has won two Grand Slam titles and many would consider her, not Barty, as the dominant force in the women’s game.

Andreescu was forced to retire (Picture: Getty)

But the Aussie – who defeated former major winners Victoria Azarenka and Jelena Ostapenko as well as active top-10 stars Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina and Andreescu on her way to the title – is confident that she earned her spot at the top of the sport and that she has ‘nothing to prove’.

‘I never have to prove anything to anyone,’ said Barty in her post-match press conference. ‘I know all the work that I do with my team behind the scene.

‘I know there has been a lot of talk about the ranking, but I didn’t play at all last year and I didn’t improve any of my points whatsoever.

‘Yes, I didn’t drop but I didn’t improve any. I didn’t play any at all. There were girls who had the chance to improve theirs, so I felt like I thoroughly deserve my spot at the top of the rankings.

‘The year we had in 2019 was incredible, incredible for us, and, you know, to be able to build on that now since the restart for us has been great, but certainly in my eyes we come out here and do the best that we can regardless of what anyone is saying. So I never feel like I have to prove anything to anyone.’

She added: ‘Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That’s absolutely fine. I can’t control what anyone else thinks or what anyone else says. For me I just keep trying to do what we do.

‘Yeah, I mean, I feel like we deserve to be top of the rankings. We have had such a fantastic season. Also, I think everyone needs to understand that it’s a pandemic. It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing for a lot of us to go through, so it’s a bit of a difficult situation.

‘But, yeah, no, it doesn’t ever really get to me. I mean, it’s just what people say and I can’t change their opinion, so it doesn’t stress me out at all.’

Andreescu had a good tournament (Picture: Icon Sportswire via Getty)

This was a significant tournament for Andreescu, too. The Canadian has been plagued by injuries since winning the US Open in 2019 but proved she is still capable of mixing it with the best, if her body allows it.

That may prove to be a big if but there were signs that she was at least becoming more aware of when to not push her body beyond its limits, after her fitness trainer, Abdul Sillah, suggested she throw in the towel.

‘I really didn’t want to stop, but Abdul, my fitness trainer, he basically saved me from myself in a way, because I have been through that, just continuously pushing myself and to the point where like I’d make it worse,’ said Andreescu.

‘Yeah, he just saved me from myself. I said, I don’t want to. But I trusted him. I knew it was the best decision.’

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