MELBOURNE — World number one Ash Barty made the perfect start to her 2021 season when she outfought Spain’s Garbine Muguruza 7-6(3) 6-4 to win the Yarra Valley Classic Australian Open warm-up tournament on Sunday.
The 24-year-old Australian, playing her first tournament for almost a year, was made to work hard for her second WTA title on home soil but had enough weapons in her armoury to see off the former French Open and Wimbledon champion.
“It’s been a little while between drinks for us but I’m enjoying every minute of it,” Barty told the socially-distanced crowd on Margaret Court Arena after receiving the trophy.
“I couldn’t wait to get out here and play this week.”
Muguruza had conceded only 10 games in four matches on her way to the final but made errors under pressure — 40 over the contest — and was no match for the determined Australian in the clutch moments.
Barty, who was handed a place in the title-decider when Serena Williams pulled out of their semi-final with an injury, had to wrestle back two breaks of serve to win a tight opening set in a tiebreak.
She secured an early break in the second stanza but Muguruza was in no mood to give up her mini winning streak without a fight and got the set back on serve.
Barty broke again for 5-4, however, before serving out to love for the match, sealing the victory with a well-judged lob over the Spaniard into the backcourt.
“We are so lucky and grateful to be able to play and to have a crowd after almost a year is just incredible,” said a smiling Muguruza, the losing finalist at Melbourne Park last year.
Barty’s title triumph will only fuel expectation that she can give Australia its first Grand Slam singles winner on home soil since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
The 2019 French Open champion, a semi-finalist here last year, will have a day off to recuperate before opening her campaign against Danka Kovinic on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford; Reuters
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