MELBOURNE (Reuters) – World number one Ash Barty said she was happy with her game heading into the Australian Open after outfighting Garbine Muguruza 7-6(3) 6-4 to win the Yarra Valley Classic warm-up tournament on Sunday.
The 24-year-old Australian, playing her first tournament for almost a year, was made to work hard for her second WTA title on home soil but had enough weapons in her armoury to see off the former French Open and Wimbledon champion in a gripping contest.
“It was some of the better tennis I played throughout the whole week,” Barty said.
“Garbine forced me to play at that level. It was a great final and I’m happy with the progression of the level of tennis through the week.”
Muguruza had conceded only 10 games in four matches on her way to the final but made errors under pressure — 40 over the contest — and was no match for the determined Australian in the clutch moments.
Barty, who was handed a place in the title-decider when Serena Williams pulled out of their semi-final with an injury, had to wrestle back two breaks of serve to win a tight opening set in a tiebreak.
She secured an early break in the second stanza but Muguruza, the losing finalist at Melbourne Park last year, was in no mood to give up her mini winning streak without a fight and got the set back on serve.
Barty broke again for 5-4, however, before serving out to love for the match, sealing the victory with a well-judged lob over the Spaniard into the backcourt.
Her title triumph will only fuel expectation that she can give Australia its first Grand Slam singles winner on home soil since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Barty habitually dismisses talk about pressure at the Australian Open and said only that she was excited and ready to go.
“I’m just trying to come out here and do the best that I can,” she added.
“I’ve done the preparation, I’ve eaten my Brussels sprouts, done everything to put myself in a position that I can go out there and perform at the best level I can.”
The 2019 French Open champion, a semi-finalist here last year, will have a day off to recuperate before opening her campaign against Danka Kovinic on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)