Tagged in: Australia

Defending champ Ash Barty returns to Miami Open final

In her first match at this year’s Miami Open, Ash Barty was one point from elimination.

Now she’s one win from becoming a repeat champion. The top-ranked Barty returned to the final by defeating No. 5-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-3 on Thursday.

Barty has gained momentum after starting the tournament by saving a match point versus qualifier Kristina Kucova. That was Barty’s first match outside her native Australia since February 2020.

“Whenever you come back from a match point, it’s a little bit of a strange feeling,” Barty said. “You have to be more open with what the possibilities the rest of the tournament could be, and keep going out there and keep fighting, knowing you could have just as easily been out of the tournament.”

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Barty, who is assured of maintaining her No. 1 ranking next week, will play for the title Saturday versus the winner of the second semifinal between No. 8 Bianca Andreescu and No. 23 Maria Sakkari.

Barty was locked down for a year in Australia because of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 Miami Open. She won the event in 2019, and said her run to that title was different from this year’s matches in Miami.

“Chalk and cheese,” the Aussie said. “The conditions have been different here this week. It has been a lot warmer and physically very demanding.”

Barty had been 1-5 previously against Svitolina, but took charge with two early breaks and used her strong serve and deep slices to keep the Ukrainian on the defensive.

Midway through the second set, Svitolina made a rare trip to the net, and Barty responded with a perfect lob winner that drew an appreciative pat of the racket strings from her opponent. On match point, Barty closed out the triumph with a forehand winner and a fist pump.

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Ashleigh Barty edges Kristina Kucova after saving match point at Miami Open

Because of canceled flights, it took Ashleigh Barty 45 hours to travel from her native Australia to Florida for a tennis tournament.

Her stay at the Miami Open will be longer than that, thanks to an incredible comeback Thursday.

The top-ranked Barty rallied from a big third-set deficit and overcame a match point to win her opening match versus qualifier Kristina Kucova 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

“Matches like that are extremely fulfilling, knowing you’ve done the work over an extended period to get just over the edge,” Barty said. “That was a really tough one today, and I enjoyed every single second of it.”

Barty, who won the most recent Miami Open title in 2019, trailed 5-2 in the final set. In the next game, she faced a match point, which she saved by ripping a weak serve for a winner.

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Barty fell behind 0-40 serving in the final game but again rallied against Kucova, a Slovak ranked 149th.

Barty closed out the triumph with a service winner and then tapped her temple with her index finger, a gesture of tribute to her mental fortitude.

“We never give up,” she said, “no matter what we’re feeling.”

Playing away from Australia for the first time in more than a year, Barty won despite an unreliable forehand. She whacked 40 unforced errors on that side, but she compensated somewhat with 15 aces.

Barty acknowledged that jet lag and the time difference between Miami and Australia made the match a challenge.

“You kind of forget how much it can take out of you,” she said. “But you have to accept that’s the way it is. It worked in my favor this morning — I got to watch some Aussie football back home.”

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Ashleigh Barty offers no guarantees beyond Melbourne Park

Sports fans should savour Ash Barty’s return to tennis because it could be fleeting.

While Barty hopes Friday night’s [AEDT] comeback match in Adelaide marks the beginning of a “long season” ahead, the world No.1 is offering no real guarantees beyond the Australian summer.

Barty hasn’t played since last February, deciding not to leave Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 24-year-old sat out the US Open in September and even opted against defending her French Open crown three weeks later in Paris.

With coronavirus still rampant around the world, the Queenslander confesses she and coach Craig Tyzzer have yet to commit to a concrete calendar beyond the Australian Open starting on Feb. 8.

“Not a lot’s changed. Obviously it’s still quite a delicate situation and we have a couple of plans,” Barty told AAP ahead of her exhibition match versus world No.2 Simona Halep on Friday night.

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“We have options A, B, C and D to kind of go through and we have to wing it a little bit, honestly, because we can’t know quite what to expect.

“But what ‘Tyzz’ and I have spoken about is that our kind of stance remains the same – the priority for us is the health and wellbeing of not only us two on the road, but also our families back home.

“So, for us, that’s a really important thing, regardless of what tournaments may be on.

“Our decisions will always be prioritized by our health and by the bigger picture for us of more than just hitting tennis balls.”

And with that approach, Barty plans on enjoying the summer – and her second Australian Open bid as top seed – rather than fretting about trying to break the country’s infamous 43-year singles title drought in Melbourne.

“It’s been a trying time for everyone down here in Victoria, in particular. So we have to be extremely grateful and understand just how lucky we are that we have an opportunity to play,” she stated.

“So I’ll go out there to try and do the best that I can to enjoy it but also go out there and try and do everyone proud knowing that we’ve got the tennis back and hopefully it’s going to be a really good month.”

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New Orleans Pelicans sign Will Magnay to two-way contract

The New Orleans Pelicans are adding Will Magnay from the National Basketball League (NBL) in Australia to a two-way contract, according to ESPN’s Olgun Uluc.

The 22-year-old center posted a line of 8.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in an average of 21.8 minutes per match (27 total games) for the Brisbane Bullets. For those efforts, he was awarded the NBL20 Most Improved Player Award.

The numbers do not necessarily jump off the page alone; however, realize those statistics represent substantial improvement from Magnay’s 2018-19 campaign, where he was largely invisible in an average of 4.3 minutes a game. Not a known commodity to the average fan in the United States.

Magnay has sat on the radar of multiple NBA teams for some time.

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There were rumors last February that the Golden State Warriors were going to sign Magnay to a 10-day contract, but the deal never came to fruition. Then another false report was published prior to the restart inside the Orlando bubble that Magnay was likely to join the Dallas Mavericks.

Why are NBA teams so enamored with Magnay? Because the athleticism and talents stand out on his 6’10 frame. While he made only 6 of 32 three-point shots in the NBL, the jumper exhibits a good amount of rhythm and solid enough form.

It’s not difficult to understand what the Pelicans may see in Magnay. In a perfect world, his development continues to noticeably grow under their tutelage, where someday he’ll be able to carve out a meaningful role alongside Zion Williamson, offering stellar shot-blocking and some floor-spreading shooting ability.

If allowed to dream for a moment, can anyone else see a solid screener who will run aggressively to the rim and finish strongly as well as offer pick-and-pop potential out to the three-point line? I think I can, but now for a healthy dose of reality: it took Magnay several years in the NBL to finally make a mark.

This, after leaving the US following his freshman year at Tulsa to turn pro in Australia.

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Canberra tournament to relocate due to wildfires

The bushfires still hold the whole of Australia in suspense. At the weekend, a new heat wave threatens to intensify the fires. Temperatures beyond the 40-degree mark and strong winds are expected on Saturday.

Even the tennis tour is not spared the effects of this natural disaster. While donations for the victims of the bush fires were collected as part of the ATP Cup, the Challenger tournament in Canberra even had to be postponed due to the poor air quality and the continuing bush fires.

The new venue is now Bendigo, a city in the state of Victoria. “Over the next few days, it would have been very unlikely that matches would take place. Because the conditions are too unpredictable, we decided to reschedule the event as early as possible,” said the Australian Tennis Association.

In addition to the men’s Challenger tournament, an ITF futures event for women should have taken place in Canberra next week – but nothing will come of it either. The health of everyone involved is simply a priority, according to the Australian Tennis Association.

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Tennis ACT chief executive Kim Kachel said Friday that the decision to move the tournament to Bendigo was made after consultation with the local authorities.

“The health of players, fans, volunteers, staff and stakeholders is our biggest priority at all times,” Kachel said. “Unfortunately, the best advice from the weather and fire experts is that the conditions over the next few days mean it is unlikely there would be any play.

With conditions too unpredictable the decision was made to relocate at the earliest available opportunity.” Bendigo is about 370 miles east of Canberra and in an area of Victoria, which is not badly affected by bushfires.

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France beats Australia 3-2 to capture Fed Cup

Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic combined to defeat Ash Barty and Sam Stosur to conquer the 2019 Fed Cup title for France.

With scores locked at 2-2 after Ajla Tomljanovic’s singles victory and the tie requiring a decisive doubles rubber, the Frenchwomen defeat the Aussies 6-4 6-3 at RAC Arena to seal victory.

It is France’s first Fed Cup title since 2003, while Australia’s wait for a trophy in the team competition extends to a 46th year.

Mladenovic was the star of the French team, winning both her singles rubbers — including a stunning defeat of world No.1 Barty earlier on Sunday — and the doubles to go a perfect 3-0 in Perth.

For Garcia, it was redemption after being trounced 6-0 6-0 by Barty on the opening day of the tie. “I’m the proudest man on the planet right now. I’m so proud of my girls and the team — they deserve it because they fought for a long time for this title,” said French captain Julien Benneteau.

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“It’s a dream for me — I tried to imagine that at the beginning of the year when I knew that I could have the best team with me on the court.

“Eight months later, here we are.”

Barty and Stosur broke the Frenchwomen right away and held in the next game to establish a 2-0 lead.

Yet despite a slow start, Garcia and Mladenovic quickly settled into the contest, communicating brilliantly and frequently defeating the Aussies with pace.

Barty and Stosur were unable to combine as effectively, often slow and reactive as Garcia and Mladenovic pulled off a succession of winners from both the back of the court and at the net.

The French pairing, Roland Garros champions in 2016, pocketed the first set and surged ahead 2-0 in the second.

Despite the Aussies earning two break points at 15-40, Garcia erased them both with scorching passing shot winners.

Stosur served to keep the Australians alive, and together she and Barty staved off two match points and eventually held for 3-5. But with the ultra-confident Mladenovic stepping up to the line to serve for the title, the French were in safe hands.

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