Tagged in: tournament

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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Masters Tournament delays ticketing process for 2021

The Masters Tournament has delayed its ticketing process for the 2021 championship as it seeks a way to let some spectators to return for the first major of the year.

Dustin Johnson won the 2020 Masters, which was postponed from April to November because of the coronavirus pandemic, before just a smattering of Augusta National members, as the tournament had made the decision to play without spectators.

With just 100 days until the first round of the 2021 Masters arranged for April 8, the club has to make decisions quickly.

“As planning continues on how to stage the 2021 Masters Tournament safely and responsibly, we would like to inform you that Augusta National is delaying the ticket process for Patron Series Badges, which traditionally begins Jan. 1,” the club said in an email to ticket holders.

“Our intention is to communicate our decisions for the 2021 Masters to all patrons of record by the end of January. No further action is needed with your account at this time.”

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Patron Series Badges are good for the four tournament rounds only and do not include practice rounds. The cost of a badge for 2020 was to be $375, and when the Masters announced in August that it would play in November without spectators, it offered to defer those badges to 2021.

Practice rounds are another matter. Those tickets are distributed for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday via a lottery conducted the previous spring. Those tickets were also deferred to 2021.

Because all of these tickets and badges have been pre-sold, Augusta National Golf Club has a difficult problem in figuring out how to proceed with presumably a smaller number of spectators permitted on site. In the email, the club thanked its patrons for “continued patience” as it looks to communicate a definitive answer.

Crowd sizes are not revealed, but it is generally believed that around 30,000 series badges are sold.

Whittling that number to even half would require some ingenuity, possibly allowing admittance for a limited number of days or again deferring attendance a year.

Masters chairman Fred Ridley said in November that he hopes the “tournament in April will be more normal than it is now,” but offered no assurances that it will be any different, given the current uncertainty with the pandemic.

“We would need to see objective data that would give us a high level of confidence that we could bring large numbers of people onto the grounds for April,” Ridley said on Nov 11. “I think the vaccine — I don’t want to get into medical prognostications — but just logically as a lay person, the vaccine, while it will be wonderful when it happens, there are all kinds of issues that point to beyond April [for the vaccine] as the silver bullet.

“As it relates to [COVID-19] testing, there are some real opportunities there. Our staff has been exploring those very deeply. We have a number of people who are very interested in helping us. It is something we will be looking very hard at. It’ll be a wonderful circumstance if we could test large numbers of people.”

In November, the Masters required all who would be on the grounds to produce a negative COVID-19 test before being admitted. It administered rapid-response tests through a local pharmacy. But those were administered to a relatively small number of people, perhaps fewer than 2,000.

To have significant numbers of spectators who have to undergo testing would require a huge effort, although Augusta National has the financial resources — plus acres upon acres of parking facilities — to make it possible.

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LPGA shanghai tournament canceled due to virus

The LPGA Tour on Wednesday canceled its Shanghai tournament after China said it will not hold most international sports events this year due to coronavirus.

LPGA Shanghai, acquired last year by American world number two Danielle Kang, had been programmed for Oct. 15-18 but has been scratched “given the current health concerns and significant travel restrictions”, the tour said in a statement.

“(We) very much look forward to returning to Qizhong Garden Golf Club, Shanghai in 2021,” it added.

It now appears inevitable that the men’s prestigious $10.5 million World Golf Championship-HSBC Champions, due to take place two weeks later in Shanghai, will also be canceled.

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Almost all leading international sports events in China this year, including WTA and ATP tennis, have been scrapped as the country tries to prevent imported virus cases.

The Formula One Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, which was postponed in April, also looks doomed.

Men’s and women’s professional golf has made a tentative return in the US and Europe, but with no crowds and under strict virus-prevention protocols.

The LPGA Tour 2020 campaign was shut down by the pandemic in February after just four events, two in Florida and two in Australia. 

It teed off again only two weeks ago with back-to-back tournaments, without crowds, in Ohio, both won by last year’s Shanghai champion Kang.

The leading women’s tour moves its bio-secure bubble to Scotland this week for the Scottish Open in North Berwick followed by next week’s first major of the season, the British Women’s Open at Troon.

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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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