Barty finds Sydney defeat ‘tough to take’
It looked a done deal after 26 minutes, but Ashleigh Barty lost her dream of claiming the last Sydney International title after an epic three-set battle against champion Petra Kvitova.
Barty had hoped to end a 13-year drought to become the first Australian woman since Alicia Molik in 2005 to win the Sydney International - to be replaced next year with the ATP Cup - but Kvitova mounted a phenomenal comeback to win 1-6 7-5 7-6 (7-3) in two hours and 19 minutes.
Kvitova, the world No.8 was clearly troubled by injury, tapping her cramping right thigh constantly throughout the match, but gritted her way to a second Sydney title having won here at Ken Rosewall Arena in 2015.
"It's tough to take," said Barty, who lost last year's Sydney final to Angelique Kerber.
"It's hard to put in words at the moment, but it's been a hell of a week. I couldn't have left anything more out on the court.
"Petra came up with the goods when she needed it today. Sometimes when you play Petra, you have those matches where a lot of the time it's out of my control.
"She had the courage and she was brave in that buster [tiebreak] in particular to take the game on, and she deserved to win.
"I noticed towards the end she looked like she was gassed a little bit and took a few more risks and they paid off for her today. She had the bravery to be able to do that.
"I have to tip my cap to her. She played an extraordinary match today. I have had an amazing start to 2019 and probably three or four points shy of being exceptional, really."
Despite defeat, Barty is full of optimism for her Australian Open campaign starting Monday.
"I'm a different player than I was 12 months ago, I feel like I'm a much better player, I'm a more complete player," Barty said.
"Certainly with a week like this, I have had probably one of the best weeks of my career. I feel like I'm playing great tennis.
"Yes, it's a bitter pill to swallow tonight, but we move on, we keep working, and we have a Slam to look forward to in a couple days' time."
This result seemed impossible after the first set, when Barty swept the floor with her rival.
Barty broke Kvitova's opening two serves to race to a 4-0 in the first set.
Kvitova held her third service match but Barty won her own and then broke the Czech again to take the set 6-1 in just 26 minutes.
The second was a far more even contest, with both players plying excellent accuracy in the stifling heat.
Neither dropped a serve until Kvitova crucially broke Barty at 5-all, and went on to take the set 7-5.
In a see-sawing third and deciding set, Kvitova broke serve again to lead 6-5.
Kvitova was virtually hobbling as she served for the match again, clutching at her thigh through the game.
Barty got a break point but let it slip. Kvitova then served successive double-faults to give Barty the game and send it to a tiebreak.
Kvitova took a 5-3 lead in the tie after a sensational crosscourt forehand winner, then won the next for three championship points.
Barty got caught flat-footed as Kvitova smashed a winner to clinch the crown.
"It was such an amazing final," Kvitova said. "I was very slow from the beginning. I'm just happy I found a way to win it with some nerves and cramping. It was a long one.
"I just stayed in the game. She really played too well from the beginning. I missed a lot. I was just trying to get back, hold serve and maybe wait for the chance which in the end of the second set it came and I took it.
"In the third set I was up and down, down a break but I was still believing in myself I could do it."
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