Defending champ Barty to play Andreescu in Miami Open final

MIAMI (AP) — 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 beating No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-3 on Thursday.

Barty has gained momentum after starting the tournament by saving a match point against 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,” she 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.”

Barty will play for the title Saturday against No. 8 Bianca Andreescu, who swept the final four games to beat No. 23 Maria Sakkari 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (4) in a match that ended at 1:35 a.m.

The 20-year-old Andreescu improved to 7-1 this year in three-set matches. She advanced to her first final since winning the 2019 U.S. Open, and seeks her fourth career title after sitting out all of 2020 because of injury and the coronavirus pandemic.

On the men’s side, unseeded 20-year-old Sebastian Korda’s breakthrough run ended with a quarterfinal loss to No. 4 Andrey Rublev, 7-5, 7-6 (7). Korda, slowed in the second set by a left thigh injury, was the youngest American to make the men’s quarterfinals in Miami since Robbie Ginepri in 2003.

“This week showed me I can keep up and play with the biggest names in tennis,” Korda said. “It was a really positive week.”

Korda said he didn’t think his injury was serious. While he departed, his sisters, Jessica and Nelly, were in contention at the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration in California after breaking par in the first round Thursday.

Rublev and Hubert Hurkacz of Poland will play in their first semifinal at a top-level ATP event when they meet Friday night. Hurkacz advanced by rallying past second-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Hurkacz, seeded 26th, has won three in a row when facing a top-five opponent, but he beat Tsitsipas for only the second time in their eight meetings.

“I just try to like keep building my game and improving,” Hurkacz said. “Not all the time are you going to have the results that you want, but if you stay positive and improve your game, the results will eventually come.”

They’re coming for Barty after she was locked down for a year in Australia because of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 Miami Open. Barty 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.”

She’ll play Andreescu for the first time.

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 victory with a forehand winner and a fist pump.

She’s assured of retaining her No. 1 ranking next week.

Hurkacz’s upset win further scrambled the men’s draw. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer skipped the tournament, and No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev lost in the quarterfinals Wednesday night to No. 7 Robert Bautista Agut.

Bautista Agut will face No. 21 Jannik Sinner in the first semifinal Friday, and a first-time ATP Masters 1000 champion will be crowned Sunday.

“Maybe I feel extra pressure, because I’m the one left who’s in the top 10,” Rublev said. “But everyone can win now. All of them are playing good tennis.”

Hurkacz was serving at 0-2, 15-40 in the second set when he began his comeback. He steadied his baseline game, while Tsitsipas became increasingly erratic and frustrated as the match progressed.

“I was very stressed these two weeks,” Tsitsipas said. “I felt like it was my opportunity. It’s a very disappointing loss. Everything was under control. And suddenly, I don’t know, self-explosion.”

Hurkacz hit 15 aces and saved 10 of the 13 break points he faced. He’ll climb in next week’s rankings to at least 27th, a career high.

___

Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Steve_Wine

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports