Category Archives: Tennis

Simona Halep beats second-ranked Paula Badosa, returns to Madrid Open last 16

Simona Halep played some of her best tennis at the Madrid Open again in defeating home-crowd favorite Paula Badosa in consecutive sets to reach the last 16 on Saturday for the seventh time in 11 appearances.

The two-time Madrid Open champion had 21 winners as she defeated No. 2-ranked Badosa 6-3, 6-1 on the Caja Mágica center court.

“I knew that I have to be for every point focused and to give everything I have, and I did it great today,” the 21st-ranked Halep said. “I’m really pleased with the way I played.”

Badosa, at a career-high ranking, converted only one of her seven break points versus Halep. The Spanish player broke through on home soil last year with a run to the Madrid semifinals as a 62nd-ranked wild card. “She’s played at a really good level, all of her merit, and I haven’t played very well,” Badosa said.

“I missed absolutely everything. That’s why I was only able to win four games. … At the important moments, the ball fell her side, and at the end of the day we just have to give her an applause. That’s why she’s a champion in this sport.”

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Halep won consecutive titles in Madrid in 2016 and 2017, and she was runner-up in 2014 and 2019.

She has 29 main-draw wins, behind only the 31 she has at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. Only three-time champion Petra Kvitova has won more main-draw matches than Halep in Madrid, with 32.

“I’m happy to be on court, and this is the most important thing at this age,” the 30-year-old Halep said. “I improved a lot in these four weeks, and I’m still looking to improve more. I will take this match as, you know, a boost and confidence, because I played with one of the best players in the world.”

Unseeded in Madrid for the first time in nine years, Halep hadn’t played since Indian Wells in March. The Romanian player has been showing a more aggressive game under new coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

“I know is the way I want to play, we want to play,” she said. “We talked about it, and I trust 100% what Patrick tells me about the game. So I’m really happy and pleased that actually I can do it on court, because it’s different when you practice and with the official match. So the fact I could do it in the official match with one of the best players in the world gives me confidence.”

Another former No. 1, Victoria Azarenka, rallied past Tamara Zidansek 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 in 2 hours, 20 minutes in her first match since the third round in Miami, where she retired for personal reasons.

Azarenka hadn’t obtained consecutive matches since the Australian Open. The two-time Grand Slam champion, seeded 15th in Madrid, last made it to the round of 16 in 2016.

Eighth-seeded Ons Jabeur defeated Varvara Gracheva 7-5, 0-6, 6-4, and Belinda Bencic defeated Karolina Muchova 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. American Amanda Anisimova also needed three sets to rally past Petra Martic.

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Casper Ruud defeats Alex Molcan to reach BMW Open quarterfinals

Casper Ruud took his time finding his rhythm as he beat Alex Molcan 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals at the BMW Open on Thursday.

Molcan built a 4-0 lead in the first set as Ruud struggled with his serve, but the clay-court specialist fought his way back and broke Molcan at 4-4 in the decider before serving out the match.

“It was not the best start for me, but I was able to find my rhythm a little more as the match went on,” Ruud said. “[Molcan is] a tough player, and good confidence for me to get these types of wins.”

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The 23-year-old Ruud stated he was especially pleased to be playing well at the comparatively high altitude of Munich as preparation for similar conditions at the Madrid Open next week.

It was Ruud’s opening match in Munich after getting a first-round bye.

At a career-high No. 7, the Norwegian is the highest-ranked player left in the draw after Alexander Zverev’s surprise loss to 18-year-old Holger Rune on Wednesday.

Ruud will face eighth-seeded Botic van de Zandschulp in the quarterfinals after the Dutch player defeated Egor Gerasimov 6-2, 6-3.

Germany’s Oscar Otte managed the surprise of the day by beating Reilly Opelka of the United States 7-6 (4), 6-2. Opelka had two set points in the first set, but Otte saved them both before taking the set to a tiebreaker.

Otte’s quarterfinal opponent is Alejandro Tabilo, who was leading 6-2, 2-6, 4-1 when Hugo Gaston retired from their second-round match. Otte cruised past Tabilo 6-0, 6-3 when they played last week at the Serbia Open.

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Roger Federer plans return to tournament play at Swiss Indoors

Roger Federer intends to return to tournament tennis after what will have been more than a year away from the tour by playing at the Swiss Indoors in October.

The event in Basel revealed in a statement posted on its website on Tuesday that the 20-time Grand Slam champion “has officially entered the tournament and will appear on the entry list with the protected ATP ranking” of No. 9.

His agent, Tony Godsick, confirmed Federer’s plan to The Associated Press.

Federer’s first match there is scheduled for Oct. 25, according to the website. The Swiss star has not played a competitive match since losing to Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0 in the Wimbledon quarterfinals on July 7.

Soon after that defeat, Federer had surgery to repair damage to his meniscus and cartilage in his right knee — the third time in a span of 1½ years that knee was operated on.

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Federer, 40, has won a men’s record eight championships at the All England Club.

He and Novak Djokovic are tied for the second-most overall major tennis titles acquired by a man; they trail Rafael Nadal, who has 21.

Federer said in an interview with a Swiss newspaper in November that he expected to miss Wimbledon this year — it starts on June 27 — and was not sure when, if ever, he might be able to play again at a high level, although he did “want to see one last time what I’m capable of as a professional tennis player.”

In February, Federer and Nadal announced they were both planning to participate in the Laver Cup in London on Sept. 23-25.

That would mark Federer’s return to action for the first time since last July — albeit not at a full-fledged tournament but at a team event founded by his management company.

Federer has won the Swiss Indoors trophy 10 times. The tournament will return this year after being called off in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Andrey Rublev beats Novak Djokovic to win Serbia Open title

Andrey Rublev defeated Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-0 to collect the Serbia Open on Sunday for his third title of the season.

The second-seeded Russian player dug deep to stop Djokovic from mounting another comeback as he prevented the top-ranked Serb from claiming his first title of 2022.

The 24-year-old Rublev looked fitter in their third set as he closed out the win in 2 hours, 24 minutes.

Djokovic — who is 10 years older than Rublev — appeared affected by the effort he put in to level the match in the second-set tiebreaker.

Djokovic had already come back from a set down in each of his three matches at his hometown tournament, defeating Laslo Djere, Miomir Kecmanovic and Karen Khachanov on his way to the final in what were only his fifth, sixth and seventh matches of the year.

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The 20-time Grand Slam champion opened his clay-court season with a surprising loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at the Monte Carlo Masters the previous week, his first match since being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championships in February.

Dubai was his first tournament of the year after he was barred from playing at the Australian Open because of his unvaccinated status, which also prevented him from playing tournaments in the United States last month.

Rublev, who dropped only one set as he eliminated Jiri Lehecka, Taro Daniel and Fabio Fognini on his way to the final, has now equaled Rafael Nadal’s mark of three tour-level titles in 2022, after victories in Marseille and Dubai in February.

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Novak Djokovic opens clay-court season with upset loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at Monte Carlo Masters

Novak Djokovic opened his clay-court season with a surprising loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Davidovich Fokina stunned the top-ranked Serb 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1 in the second round to hand Djokovic another setback as he tries to move on from the controversy surrounding his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

It makes for rare back-to-back losses for Djokovic, who had not played since being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships in February — his only previous tournament this year after he was barred from playing at the Australian Open.

Djokovic struggled from the start as the 46th-ranked Spaniard broke him early to pull ahead 4-1 before another break handed him the first set.

Davidovich Fokina kept up the pressure and led 3-0 in the second before Djokovic clawed back. But the Serb continued to struggle on his serve and was broken three times in the decider. “He was the better player,” Djokovic said. “I was hanging on the ropes the entire match.”

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The Serb stated he was too exhausted to put up a fight in the third set.

“I collapsed,” Djokovic said. “I just ran out of gas completely … If you can’t stay in the rally, not feeling your legs on the clay, it’s mission impossible.”

Djokovic had defeated Davidovich Fokina, 22, in consecutive sets twice last year, in Rome and at the Tokyo Olympics.

Djokovic could not defend his Australian Open title in January after he was deported from the country for not being vaccinated. He had to skip tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami because he couldn’t travel to the United States for the same reason.

The authorities in France and Monaco lifted most COVID-19 restrictions last month, allowing people who aren’t vaccinated into the country and back into restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.

That means Djokovic will be able to play at the French Open, which remains his “big goal of the clay season.”

“I knew that it’s going to take some time for me to really feel my best on the clay,” Djokovic said. “I have to accept defeat and keep working … and hopefully build my form for Roland Garros.”

The French Open starts on May 22 in Paris.

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American Amanda Anisimova ousts top seed Aryna Sabalenka in Charleston Open

American Amanda Anisimova rallied after losing the opening set to defeat top-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday and reach the quarterfinals of the Charleston Open.

In another surprise, CoCo Vandeweghe also reached the round of eight by defeating U.S. countrywoman and sixth-seeded Jessica Pegula 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

Spain’s Paula Badosa, the second seed, dropped her first set before fighting off American Claire Liu for a 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-1 victory to move into the quarters.

No. 10 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the Olympic gold medalist last summer, defeated ninth-seeded Madison Keys of the United States 6-4, 6-4.

Fourth-seeded Ons Jabeur did double duty, winning twice Thursday to make the quarters. Jabeur’s match with Emma Navarro was halted Wednesday because of severe weather with her leading 6-3, 5-2. The two returned Thursday where Jabeur won four consecutive points to close things out.

Later, Jabeur eliminated Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-3, 6-2.

She was frustrated they couldn’t finish yesterday’s match. “But, you know, it is what it is,” she said. “I’m glad that I finished quick in the morning. And tonight was really tricky.”

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Magda Linette of Poland had it worse than Ons.

Linette, whose Wednesday match was also washed out, defeat seventh-seeded Leylah Fernandez of Canada 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the afternoon. Linette returned at night to top Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.

In all, Linette played 55 games in four hours, 38 minutes and 16 seconds of winning tennis to advance. Jabeur said Begu found some rhythm in the middle of the match. “But I’m glad that I really won my serve at the end,” Jabeur said.

Sabalenka had won her first match in nearly six weeks here Wednesday and took the opening set without too much of a struggle. But Anisimova, 20, who is ranked 47th in the world found her rhythm after the break as Sabalenka began to make mistakes.

Sabalenka had two straight double faults to trail 5-3 and Anisimova was able to serve out the set.

Anisimova continued her run in the deciding set, breaking Sabalenka’s serve twice for a 4-0 lead. Sabalenka closed to 5-4, but Anisimova closed out the match with her sixth ace and improved to 3-0 versus the world’s fifth-ranked player.

Anisimova was thrilled with her third match victory in as many days. She’ll face Vandeweghe on Friday to reach the semifinals.

“It’s a pretty good result, like in the quarterfinal, and especially against a top seed,” Anisimova said. “It’s a big confidence boost.”

Badosa also got off to a bad start versus the 21-year-old Liu. Badosa was up 5-3 in the second set when Liu won three of the last four games to set up the tie breaker. Liu was two points away from winning the match four times in the tiebreak, yet Badosa turned away each challenge.

Badosa converted her fourth set point off a backhand winner to close the set, which lasted 72 minutes.

Badosa gained control after that in the third set to advance.

In the quarterfinals, she’ll take on Bencic, who overcame a nearly two-hour rain delay after winning the opening set versus Keys. After the rain stopped the court was dried, Bencic held off the American, who was the last remaining past champion in the field.

Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine topped No. 12 seed Alize Cornet of France 7-6 (5), 7-5.

Jabeur, of Tunisia, had hoped to squeeze in more tennis and wrap up the match on Wednesday. She only needed a few minutes – and four points – to finish off Navarro, the American. Jabeur has a third-round match with Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania later Thursday.

The tournament has been affected by bad weather all week and Thursday was no different. Things are forecast to dry out on Friday and through Sunday’s championship match.

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Carlos Alcaraz, 18, becomes youngest Miami Open champion, third-youngest winner of any ATP Masters 1000 event

Spanish fans brought plenty of their nation’s flags to Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, thrusting them into the air whenever things were going well for Carlos Alcaraz.

He kept them busy, all the way to the end.

Spain finally has a Miami Open men’s champion: an 18-year-old who wasn’t even in the top 100 of the world rankings at this time a year ago and now heads into the clay-court season arguably playing as well as anyone.

Alcaraz, the No. 14 seed, shook off a slow start to defeat sixth-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway 7-5, 6-4 in Sunday’s final.

The melting pot city of Miami — with its massive Spanish-speaking community — loved him back, and Alcaraz said that made a big difference throughout his two-week stay.

“I felt like I was home from the first minute I began playing,” Alcaraz said.

He became the youngest champion in Miami Open history — Novak Djokovic was 19 when he obtained the tournament, then the NASDAQ-100 Open, for the first time — and picked up $1,231,245 for the victory, nearly doubling his career earnings with one check.

The shot-making ability from the Spanish teen was on full display: daring drop shots in tense situations, deft touch at the net when needed, raw power from the baseline when warranted.

Alcaraz often would look to his team in the stands and give a joyous yell or a knowing fist-pump, clearly feeling more comfortable as the afternoon went along.

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Among those there with him: his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero. He had been away while mourning the death of his father, but made it back to Miami in time for the final. And when the match was over, Alcaraz hopped into the stands to give Ferrero his first hug as a Miami champion, as his coach wiped away tears.

“It’s pretty amazing to share this with you,” Alcaraz told Ferrero.

There had been four other Spanish men to make the final at what now is called the Miami Open — the tournament has changed names a few times over the years — over the last quarter-century. Sergi Bruguera was the first, in 1997. Carlos Moya was next, in 2003. David Ferrer got there in 2013 and the best player of them all, Rafael Nadal, made it to the Miami final in 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2017.

They all lost. Every time.

Alcaraz ended the drought and did so with authority.

He ripped a crosscourt forehand for a double-break lead of 3-0 in the second set. Ruud broke back for 3-1, and had a chance at setting up another breaker late in the set.

With Alcaraz hitting a second serve at 4-3, 30-30, Ruud guessed the incoming ball’s path correctly and ran around his backhand to try what would have been a down-the-line winner. He put it just wide, and a point later Alcaraz was up 5-3. Before long, it was over.

“You’re such a good player already,” Ruud told Alcaraz during the trophy ceremony. “You’re so young and if you continue like this you will stand there many more times. I’m sure of it.”

Rankings-wise, both players leave Miami better than ever. Ruud is expected to climb one spot to a career-best No. 7 in the world when the computer numbers are updated Monday; Alcaraz will be a career-best No. 11.

For Ruud, the rise has been steady. He was No. 26 in the world after Miami last year.

For Alcaraz, the rise has been meteoric. He was ranked No. 133 at this time a year ago.

But he made big jumps — getting to the third round of last year’s French Open as a qualifier pushed him into the top 75, making the US Open quarterfinals got him into the top 50, winning a tournament in Rio de Janeiro in February got him into the top 20, and he leaves Miami flirting with the top 10.

In any language, Alcaraz was the best in Miami.

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Jessica Pegula reaches Miami Open semifinals after Paula Badosa retires in first set

Forget three-setters. These days, Jessica Pegula doesn’t even need second sets.

The No. 16 seed has made the semifinals at the Miami Open, benefiting from a second consecutive abrupt ending. She won her quarterfinal versus fifth-seeded Paula Badosa on Wednesday, after the Spaniard retired five games into the first set.

Pegula has played four matches so far in this tournament, needing only 5½ sets to record those victories. She had a first-round bye, won her next two matches in consecutive sets and her fourth-round match ended when unseeded Anhelina Kalinina retired after Pegula won the first set 6-0.

Then came Wednesday, when Badosa bowed out down 4-1. “Of course, it’s not nice to win that way,” Pegula said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever even hit with her at all and I was really looking forward to playing because she’s been having an amazing year.”

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Badosa — who was No. 71 in the world rankings at this time last year — will climb to a career-best No. 3 when the computer numbers are updated on Monday. She would have gone to No. 2 had she beaten Pegula.

Badosa stated she woke up Monday not feeling well and wasn’t even sure she could play that day in a fourth-rounder versus Linda Fruhvirtova.

Badosa battled through, winning that match 6-2, 6-3, but was clearly not herself on Wednesday.

“She’s an incredible competitor,” Pegula said. “I think we all saw that last round where she clearly wasn’t feeling well and she was able to tough it out. I admire that a lot and hopefully next time we can both play when we’re healthy and feeling good and have a great match.”

Pegula will next face No. 2 Iga Swiatek — who becomes No. 1 in the world rankings on Monday — in Thursday night’s semifinals. Swiatek ousted No. 28 Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-3 in the last women’s quarterfinal.

The other women’s semifinal is Thursday afternoon, when No. 22 Belinda Bencic will face unseeded Naomi Osaka.

Pegula has spent a total of 3 hours, 22 minutes on court in her four matches. That’s only four minutes more than it took for the Buffalo Bills to beat the Miami Dolphins 35-0 at Hard Rock Stadium last September, a game Pegula knows a little something about — since her parents own the Bills.

The Dolphins’ sprawling facility — which will also play host to a Formula One race later this spring — is the home of the Miami Open and the stadium court is inside Hard Rock Stadium. Other courts are built where parking lots around the stadium used to be, but the court where Pegula played Wednesday is a temporary structure constructed atop where the Dolphins’ field usually is.

“I’ve been here before, on this field, in a different scenario,” Pegula said. “But I’m sure we have some Bills fans here, so it’s nice to get another victory in this stadium.”

The quick end of the Pegula-Badosa match meant the stadium court sat empty for nearly two hours, until No. 9 Jannik Sinner — a finalist in Miami last year — faced unseeded Francisco Cerundolo in a men’s quarterfinal.

And after 22 minutes, that match was over — also in just five games. Cerundolo advanced when Sinner, down 4-1, retired with a blister on his right foot. “I couldn’t move. … I tried, but it didn’t work,” Sinner said.

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Naomi Osaka cruises past Astra Sharma in first round of Miami Open

Naomi Osaka was greeted by some cheers when she walked onto the court, then got significantly louder ones when her work for the day was done.

Maybe the comforts of home helped.

Flashing the level of play that vaulted her to No. 1 in the world not too long ago, Osaka had little trouble in defeating Astra Sharma of Australia 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday — the first full day of play at the Miami Open.

Osaka is Japanese-born, calls California home now, but spent much of her youth in South Florida, basically just a few miles north of where the Miami Open is now held.

“I kind of consider this like my home tournament,” Osaka said, before her words got drowned out by more cheers and applause from fans. “This is the tournament that I loved coming to once a year. I’m just really happy to be back out here.”

It was Osaka’s first match since a March 12 loss at Indian Wells, when she was rattled by a derogatory shout from a spectator. If any similar thoughts were expressed by the fans who were watching Wednesday in a largely empty stadium court built over the field where the NFL’s Miami Dolphins play football, they either were ignored or unnoticed.

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“Honestly, for me, I just didn’t want to let anything bother me today no matter what happened,” Osaka said. “The last match that I played was not the greatest memory for me.”

That’s when someone decided to yell from the stands: “We love you.”

Osaka surely appreciated that sentiment.

She revealed Wednesday that she started seeing a therapist after Indian Wells

“it only took like a year after French Open,” she quipped, referring to how she missed the clay-court Grand Slam event to focus on her mental health last year — and that she was bracing to hear heckling.

“I’m glad that I have people around me that told me to go in that direction,” Osaka said. “I was basically just remembering all the things that she told me to do, just to take deep breaths and reset myself when I need to.”

Osaka will face No. 13 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany — like Osaka, another former world No. 1 — in the second round Thursday. Kerber, like all 32 seeds in the 96-player singles field, had a bye out of the first round. Kerber is 4-1 head-to-head versus Osaka.

Osaka improved to 7-2 this year, not counting a walkover loss at Melbourne in early January when she withdrew from an Australian Open warmup event with an abdominal injury.

She’s ranked No. 77 in the world largely because she hasn’t entered many events in the last year, though among active players — if Ashleigh Barty is no longer considered one after her surprising retirement announcement — Osaka is the most recent to hold the No. 1 ranking. Barty supplanted her in the top spot on Sept. 9, 2019, and has held that ranking since.

Osaka has openly talked about struggling with depression and working on her mental health since winning the 2018 US Open over Serena Williams. She withdrew from last year’s French Open, left last year’s US Open in tears and was brought to tears again by the comment from a spectator at Indian Wells earlier this month.

“I just wanted to prove that I could come back out here and compete,” Osaka said.

Also Wednesday, 2018 Miami champion Sloane Stephens earned a second-round matchup versus fellow American Jessica Pegula by topping Hungary’s Panna Udvardy 6-4, 6-3. And Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania topped Hailey Baptiste of the U.S. 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-1 to move into a second-round matchup versus women’s No. 1 seed Aryna Sabalenka.

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World No. 1 Ash Barty, 25, announces retirement from tennis: ‘I’m so happy and I’m so ready’

Australia’s Ash Barty, the No. 1-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, has announced her retirement from the sport at the age of 25.

Barty stated in an emotional video posted Wednesday local time on social media: “I’m so happy and I’m so ready. I just know at the moment in my heart for me as a person this is right.”

The announcement comes less than two months after she obtained her home Australian Open, her third Grand Slam singles title.

“It’s the first time I’ve actually said it out loud and, yeah, it’s hard to say,” Barty told her former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua in the video interview. “But I’m so happy, and I’m so ready.

“I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level anymore. I am spent.”

Barty, who left tennis in 2014 to pursue a professional cricket career but returned to the sport two years later, won her three major singles titles on three different surfaces — on clay at the 2019 French Open, on grass at Wimbledon last year and on the hard courts of Melbourne Park at the Australian Open in January.

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The WTA Tour stated Barty has held the No. 1 ranking for 114 consecutive weeks.

She is the second woman to retire while being ranked No. 1 in the world. Justine Henin retired on May 14, 2008, after spending 61 consecutive weeks ranked at the top. Henin also was 25 at the time of her retirement, but did come back two years after her announcement, reaching the final of the 2010 Australian Open before stepping away for good in 2011.

“Ashleigh Barty with her signature slice backhand, complemented by being the ultimate competitor, has always led by example through the unwavering professionalism and sportsmanship she brought to every match,” WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement.

“With her accomplishments at the Grand Slams, WTA Finals, and reaching the pinnacle ranking of No.1 in the world, she has clearly established herself as one the great champions of the WTA.

“We wish Ash only the very best and know that she will continue to be a tremendous ambassador for the sport of tennis as she embarks on this new chapter of her life. We will miss her.”

Barty said tennis has “given me all of my dreams, plus more, but I know that the time is right now for me to step away and chase other dreams, and to put the rackets down.”

She noted in her Instagram caption that she leaves the sport “feeling proud and fulfilled” and said there will be more to come at her news conference on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Barty pulled out of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells and the Miami Open, citing a need for ongoing recovery after winning the Australian Open.

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