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BC-TEN--Miami Open,3rd Ld-Writethru

March 29, 2019
AP Sports Writer

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Ashleigh Barty walked away from tennis about five years ago, saying she was basically burned out at 17.

She returned three years ago.

And now at 22, she’s better than ever.

The 12th-seeded Barty has reached her first Miami Open final, enduring three rain delays on Thursday to oust 21st-seeded Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 6-3 in the first women’s semifinal.

Next up in the biggest final of her singles career: Either second-seeded Simona Halep or fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who were scheduled to play late Thursday night.

“Obviously, I’ve been doing the right things throughout the week to put be able to put myself in a position to play for a title,” Barty said. “You have to go out there and embrace it.”

That was also her approach to a very long — and very wet — day at Hard Rock Stadium.

Barty, who will rise to a career-best No. 9 in the world ranking next week, was to take the court for the semifinal against Kontaveit at 1 p.m. They didn’t begin play until 2:08, and the delays were just getting started.

They got three games — six minutes of tennis — in before the first in-match delay stopped things for more than two hours. They got another game in before more rain arrived, prompting another two-hour delay.

At 7:32 p.m., finally, it ended. Kontaveit fended off one match point with a forehand drop shot, but was ousted by an ace on the following point. Barty was down 3-1 in the second, but won the final five games.

“Very long day,” said Barty, who passed the time in the locker room by drinking coffee and watching golf. “But for me, it’s an opportunity to come out and play another match. We can’t control the weather.”

On the men’s side, 20th-seeded Denis Shapovalov reached the semifinals after ousting 28th-seeded Frances Tiafoe 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2 — the third time in four matches at this tournament that he rallied from a set down before prevailing. It also gives Canada two teens in the men’s final four — the 19-year-old Shapovalov will face either Roger Federer or Kevin Anderson in the semifinals, while the other semifinal has 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime against defending Miami champion John Isner.

And the success for Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov in Miami follows the story of 18-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu winning the title at Indian Wells earlier this month.

O, Canada, indeed.

“Pretty crazy. Everyone is super excited back home,” said Auger-Aliassime, who wasn’t in the top 100 of the world rankings two months ago and now will climb to No. 33 next week — if not higher. “It’s great to hear all these good comments from them. It puts a lot of belief in tennis in Canada. I think all the Canadian players from the young kids to Denis and Bianca and I, there is a lot of belief right now, so it’s great to see.”

Barty has already beaten both Halep and Pliskova in her career — but given the seeds and the respective rankings, she won’t be the favorite come Saturday in the final.

And she’s fine with that.

“I can go in there and play with freedom and try to play my best tennis,” Barty said.