Ash Barty has won the Miami Open, stamping her place at the top of the world rankings with a convincing victory over Canada's Bianca Andreescu.
It was the first tournament outside of Australia that Barty had attended in more than a year, with the Aussie star having chosen to remain at home as tournaments resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
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Barty claimed a 6-3, 4-0 victory after Andreescu was forced to retire in the second set, after injuring her ankle while serving at 0-3 in the second.
The Canadian youngster was shattered to have to bring the match to an early end, but later thanked her trainer for 'saving me from myself' after attempting to push through the painful injury.
She tried gamely to carry on with her ankle heavily strapped but, five points later, when the merciless Barty served an ace to go 4-0 up, the 20-year-old slumped to her haunches, broke down in tears and trudged to the net to concede after just 59 one-sided minutes.
Barty consoled the unfortunate Andreescu, who had not played at all in 2020 because of a knee injury, and admitted it had been a "brutal" way to have to win the final against a friend.
"Bianca, I'm shattered for you mate. I hope you recover well and this doesn't hinder your season too much," Barty told her at the trophy ceremony.
"I'm sure we'll have many more good and hopefully healthy matches in the future."
Barty defeated three top 10 players on her way to the final, having survived match point in her opening round game against Kristina Kucova in what seemed to be a shaky start to the tournament.
Instead, the 23-year-old powered her way to her biggest triumph since winning the 2019 WTA Finals - cementing her place atop the women's rankings. It was also Barty's first successful title defence.
"It's incredible, the first time I've defended a title and it's really, really exciting," enthused Barty, who dominated the final.
"I'm just really excited that we could kick start what is really going to be a long, long season away from home for us in the best possible fashion.
"It's been a great week for Tyz (coach Craig Tyzzer) and I and we're really excited."
Miami Open heartbreak for Bianca Andreescu
The final proved surprisingly one-sided with Andreescu looking a little out of sorts and weary from the outset, perhaps suffering from her 1.30am finish to a draining semi-final on Friday.
The Australian was on her case straight away in blustery conditions at Miami Gardens, racing into a 3-0 lead, almost looking better even than the 2019 Barty model.
Andreescu rallied briefly mid-set but Barty dominated the 37-minute stanza before forcing an immediate break in the second when the Canadian surrendered the break with a double fault.
She's a fighter but Andreescu already looked beaten and a little dispirited before falling as she shaped to hit a forehand.
For Barty, there was the proud knowledge that she had just joined some great names by winning back-to-back Miami titles - Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Venus Williams and Serena Williams.
Modest as ever, she shrugged: "I shouldn't belong with that group. I haven't earned the right to be on a list with those champions."
"They're genuine champions and legends, and I feel very privileged to be mentioned in that sentence."
There was plenty of sympathy for Andreescu among fans on social media, after the 20-year-old overcame a strong of gruelling three-set marathon's to make the final.
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