Aryna Sabalenka captures Madrid title in thrilling win over Ashleigh Barty

The 23-year-old Belarusian halts top seed Barty's clay court streak to beat her in a three-set final.

Aryna Sabalenka in a file photo; Credit: WTA Tour

Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka ended top seed Ashleigh Barty’s claycourt winning streak to beat her in the final of the Mutua Madrid Open in three sets. The 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 win helped Sabalenka capture her first claycourt title. “I’m not really scared of this surface any more,” Sabalenka said after the match. “Before I was too much thinking about the clay court, that this is surface not for me, that it’s really tough to play on this surface, it’s long rallies.”

“I was really too much thinking about this. This year I relaxed and just play my game. I worked a lot on the movement, so I prepare myself really well for the clay court. Before on the clay court I tried to change my game a little bit. I tried to play with the topspin, slice, all this stuff.”

She then opened up about how her coach’s advice changed the way she approached matches in this court. “[My coach] said, Listen, you don’t need to change your game. Of course, it’s good that you can use a little bit more spin on the ball, have this variation. You just have to stay aggressive here and be ready that the ball will come back a little bit more than on a hard court. It’s just about little bit longer rallies,” she added.

‘I stayed focused’

Notably, this trophy is Sabalenka’s second of the season following Abu Dhabi in January and her fourth title in the last 12 months. Recently, Barty had beaten Sabalenka in three sets in both the Miami quarterfinals and the Stuttgart final. Besides, the Australian player was also on a 16-match red clay winning streak.

“I wouldn’t compare match in Miami and here to Stuttgart,” said Sabalenka. “Stuttgart I was injured. It’s tough to say anything about that match. She was just unbelievable. I gave her opportunity there, and she took it. In Miami, it was really slow courts, long rallies. It was really hot. There, physically I would say it was much harder to play against her than here.”

“I think what I did really well here, I stayed focused from the beginning till the end. I was putting her under the pressure, especially in the end of the third set. In those key moments I was a little bit more aggressive. That’s what really helped me to win this match.”

Earlier, Sabalenka won the opening set in a stellar fashion without losing a single game. Barty fought back as she started to impose herself forcing mistakes off the Belarusian tennis player. After getting on the board on her fourth break point for 1-0, Barty broke twice more as she won the second set to take the match into a decider.

A one point in the third set, Barty brought up double break point to take a 3-1 lead. Just when it looked like the World No.1 was destined for the title, Sabalenka produced an impressive fightback to grab the set, match, and the trophy in style.

“She takes the ball out of my court and essentially takes the racquet out of my hand when she serves the way she did in the first set,” said Barty. “I gave her a few too many looks on second serves. She’s able to dominate and take that away from me. I guarantee it won’t be the last time that it happens. I’ll continue to fight and try to find a way back in each and every time.”

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