Barty claims revenge en route to Madrid Open final
You don't beat Ash Barty twice in a row.
Australia's world No.1 cruised into her fourth WTA singles final of the season on Thursday night, exacting revenge 6-4 6-3 against Spain's Paula Badosa at the Madrid Open.
Her final opponent will be Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Belarussian blaster Aryna Sabalenka, who Barty outlasted in three sets in last month's Stuttgart final.
It's the continuation of an almost-perfect preparation for this month's French Open, which Barty will aim to win for the second time in three years after skipping the 2020 edition during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She can become just the third women's player to claim the Madrid title while holding the world's top ranking, behind Dinara Safina (2009) and Serena Williams (2013).
"I'm very excited to be in the final," Barty said on court afterwards.
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"Paula's had an incredible week, she's a great fighter and I think playing her at home here is something I'll always remember.
"It was a very special match, but the first of many big tournaments for her, I'm sure.
"I'll try my best (to win the final). I'm looking forward to another match against a quality opponent, and physically I'll try to get ready as best I can."
The 2019 French Open champion is firming as the favourite to take out the title at this year's Roland-Garros event, which begins on May 30.
"It's just (about) always staying in the fight," Barty said.
"Always staying in the hunt and never letting it slide away. That certainly doesn't guarantee results, doesn't guarantee success.
"(But) it guarantees you give yourself the best chance to do what you do and to figure it out and to find your way."
Barty has already won titles in Melbourne, Miami and Stuttgart in 2021, yet Badosa represented a challenge as the only player to get the better of the Queenslander in this year's clay-court swing.
That upset victory was on Charleston's green clay rather than the red dirt that Barty has now won 16 straight matches on.
Barty was largely untroubled this time, using every angle in the book to keep Badosa at bay - forcing the Spanish wildcard to be ultra-aggressive to win points.
The top seed didn't concede a break point in the opening set, then turned the screws in the 10th game to go a set up on her third chance, when Badosa double-faulted.
The second set was a polar opposite to the first, with a loose Barty service game resulting in Badosa snatching an immediate break.
That only served to spur Barty on as she reeled off the next four games, although she had to stave off three break-back points to go 4-1 ahead.
Badosa rallied from a set down twice this tournament, but there was no coming back this time as Barty sealed her passage to the final with a sixth ace.
Both players finished with 23 unforced errors, but Barty struck double as many winners (30-15) as her opponent.
DEMON PUTS UP SOLID FIGHT
Meanwhile, Australia's top men's player, Alex de Minaur, seriously tested two-time Roland-Garros runner-up Dominic Thiem before going down 7-6 (7) 6-4 in their third round clash.
De Minaur held a 3-1 first-set lead and had a set point on serve in the tiebreak, but Thiem fought back each time.
After a slow start on clay this year, de Minaur is rounding into form ahead of the second grand slam of the season, which begins on May 30.
Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin earlier confirmed his status as one of the game's brightest talents with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 upset victory over 14th seed Jannik Sinner.
The win not only propels him to a career-high ranking just outside the top 60, but sets up a third-round clash with Spanish clay-court king Rafael Nadal.
"I've got to play him (Nadal) and on his favourite surface and he's the greatest of all-time on clay," Popyrin said.
"I'm not going to go out there thinking, 'I'm going to lose one and one'. I'm going to give it my all, put in a fight.
"I'm going to go out there believing that I can actually play, because I believe I do have the level to play with him."
Originally published as Barty claims revenge en route to Madrid Open final