Brilliant Barty takes Yarra Valley title

  • Matt Trollope

Ash Barty has made a resounding return to tennis, winning the WTA Yarra Valley Classic title on Sunday. 

Her victory preceded that of Elise Mertens, who brushed aside Kaia Kanepi in straight sets to take out the concurrent WTA Gippsland Trophy.  

Barty beat in-form Spaniard Garbine Muguruza 7-6(3) 6-4 to win the 500-level event in the perfect preparation for Australian Open 2021.

Barty capped a perfect AO lead-in with her first trophy of 2021

It reflects the start to her Australian summer last year, when she won her first title on home soil at the Adelaide International in the week preceding AO 2020.  

She then progressed to the semifinals at Melbourne Park, the first Australian woman to reach that stage of the tournament since 1984. 

Yet the world No.1 barely played after that, choosing to remain at home in Queensland as COVID-19 ravaged the international tennis schedule throughout 2020. 

The Yarra Valley Classic marked Barty’s first competitive event in 11 months – but it looked like she had barely been away.

Barty's variety blunted Muguruza's power game

“It was some of the better tennis I played throughout the whole week,” said Barty of her Sunday performance, after she had beaten Ana Bogdan, Marie Bouzkova and Shelby Rogers en route to the title match. 

“Garbine forced me to play at that level. It was a great final. 

“I love playing in Australia. I feel like if there's a tournament here, I grab it with both hands and try to do the best that I can. Of course, getting matches under your belt is important, particularly after an extended period off for me.” 

Muguruza had destroyed all before her this week at Melbourne Park, mowing down four opponents for the collective loss of just 10 games. 

“I think Garbine is an exceptional frontrunner. It was important for me today when she did get a couple of those early breaks in the first set is not to let her run away with it, respond instantly,” Barty said. 

“When push came to shove, those big moments, I was clear, I knew what I wanted to do, I just had to execute.”

Muguruza surged ahead 3-1 in the first set of the final against Barty, and also served for the first set at 5-4, before the Australian’s variety began to unwind the Spaniard. 

Barty’s trusted combination of sliced backhands and heavy forehands neutralised Muguruza’s aggression, while her command of angles helped her outmaneuver the Spaniard to open up the court. 

Forced out of her comfort zone, unable to dictate and often pressured into going for too much, Muguruza sprayed 25 unforced errors in the opening set – most of them long over the baseline. 

Despite the loss, Muguruza took plenty from her AO lead-in

Barty grew in confidence in the second set, breaking early and producing some sizzling tennis. 

Muguruza broke back to level at 3-3, but Barty broke again in the ninth game with a forehand winner after the Spaniard double-faulted.

Serving for the title, Barty slammed two aces and an unreturnable serve to reach 40-0, then lofted a winning lob on the very next point for the perfect finish.

Mertens dismantles Kanepi for Gippsland title 

Belgian Mertens won her sixth WTA title following a 6-4 6-1 win over 94th-ranked Kanepi.  

The result ended Kanepi’s 14-match winning streak and means that world No.20 Mertens has won 27 of her last 34 matches, dating back to August 2020. 

Playing with controlled aggression from the baseline, Mertens was far too steady for the Estonian, who ended the match with twice the number of unforced errors (26-13). 

Mertens completed the win in one hour and 12 minutes to earn her first trophy in almost two years.

Sunday's title was the sixth of Mertens' career

“She's definitely a big hitter. When the first serves go in, you have to make the returns to let her play. That's what I did,” Mertens assessed.  

“I didn't give a lot of free points, so that's always good against her. Get that one ball back, let her play the game, get the balls back, but also try to, if you have the chance, attack.” 

As the Yarra Valley and Gippsland finals played out at MCA, the WTA Grampians trophy concluded at Court 3. 

Anett Kontaveit beat Maria Sakkari 2-6 6-3 [11-9] in the first semifinal before Ann Li overcame last year’s US Open semifinalist Jennifer Brady 7-6(5) 6-7(5) [10-6] in a battle between Americans in the second semifinal. 

The final was not played, meaning Kontaveit and Li share the champion’s points, prize money and trophy.