Barty and Osaka Battle for Number 1 Ranking in Miami
All eyes were on Naomi Osaka going into the Miami Open. She had looked unstoppable, recently winning her fourth grand slam at the 2021 Australian Open. Osaka began the Miami Open looking to extend her 20 match win streak, and win an Open where she had struggled in previous years. In her five appearances at the Miami Open, Osaka had never made it further than the round of sixteen.
Although much attention has been directed towards Osaka lately, she is not the world’s number one. That title belongs to Ashleigh Barty, who finished as the top women’s tennis player in both 2019 and 2020, although rankings were frozen for a large part of 2020 due to COVID-19. Barty was also the defending Miami Open Champion, since she won the tournament in 2019.
If Osaka could finally find success in Miami she could retake the WTA number one ranking for the first time since 2019. Both players faced unseeded opponents in their first two matches, and advanced easily. Osaka didn’t play in the round of 32 because her opponent was injured, so she advanced via walkthrough.
In the round of sixteen, Barty was able to defeat former world number one, Victoria Azarenka, in three sets. Osaka, meanwhile, won convincingly over the tournament’s sixteen seed, Elsie Mertens. For the first time ever, Osaka advanced to the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.
Barty faced Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals. Entering the match Sabalenka had three straight victories over Barty in their head-to-head matchups, and it seemed as if she could pull off the upset. The first two sets were split between the two, but Barty was able to win the third set 6–3.
Just as it seemed like Naomi Osaka was overcoming her Miami troubles, she faltered in the Quarterfinals. Losing in straight sets to the 23 seed, Maria Sakkari. Sakkari dominated the match, and never allowed Naomi to get comfortable. Osaka’s loss guaranteed that Barty would hold her number one ranking, regardless of how she finished.
With her number one ranking secured, Barty could now turn her attention to capturing her second Miami Open title. She made quick work of her semifinal opponent, Elina Svitolina, winning in straight sets. The victory set up a highly anticipated final against 20 year old Bianca Andreescu. Unfortunately, the matchup was cut short after Andreescu was forced to retire due to injury. It did seem like Barty was on the way to a second Miami Open Title anyway; she was leading 4–0 in the second set before Andreescu retired.
Although it was not a picture perfect tournament, Barty left Miami with another title and with her number one ranking intact. Naomi Osaka, on the other hand, will have to wait for her next opportunity to attempt to become the world’s number one again. In the meantime, Ashleigh Barty can just enjoy the view from the top.