(Reuters) – World number one Ash Barty faced a match point but escaped with a hard-fought 6-3 4-6 7-5 victory over tournament qualifier Kistina Kucova at the Miami Open on Thursday in the Australian’s first match outside of her home country in more than a year.
After a solid first set Barty, who had previously said she was suffering from jet lag after a marathon flight, got into trouble as unforced errors began to pile up.
She fell behind 5-2 in the third and was later pushed to the brink but jumped on a soft serve from Kucova on match point to extend the contest and was able to lean on her powerful serve in the final game to advance on a hot day at Hard Rock Stadium.
“My first bubble win,” Barty said of the tournament, where a limited number of fans are allowed on the grounds.
“It is nice to be back on tour. It is nice to come back to a place here to Miami where we have had such good memories,” said Barty, who won the tournament in 2019.
“It’s a beautiful place to play tennis.”
Barty, who was knocked out in the Australian Open quarter-finals last month by Czech Karolina Muchova, is among the players who elected to stay close to home as the world of tennis trudged onward amid the global pandemic last year.
Barty said she enjoyed the challenge presented by the Slovak in their first career meeting.
“Matches like that are extremely fulfilling,” she said.
“Knowing that you have done the work over an extended period to get over the edge and get the result that you’re after.”
After sealing the win, Barty looked at her team and pointed to her temple.
“We never give up,” Barty said when asked the meaning of the gesture.
“No matter what the result, no matter what we’re feeling, no matter the conditions, we just never give up.”
Next up for Barty is a meeting with a fellow Grand Slam champion, Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, on Saturday.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles)