Ash Barty stepped back onto the WTA after more than a year of COVID hibernation at home and had to fight for her life in an opening match at the Miami Masters on Thursday.

Australia’s world No. 1 was forced to save a match point to finally escape a serious upset bid by 149th-ranked Slovak Kristina Kucova, finally winning 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

Top seed Barty had not set foot outside of Australia for more than a year when the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic began to kick in last March.

She escaped with a second-round win, forced to hold off a charge from her opponent while leading a set and a break.

Barty, who exited in a disappointing Australian Open quarter-final, struggled to find form as her challenger with nothing to lose took the match to the seed.

Barty has plenty on the line here, having won the title in 2019, last time the event was played.

The contest which lasted for two and a half hours featured 15 aces from Barty, who broke Kucova five times. 

The winner next plays 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, who defeated Kirsten Flipkens 6-2, 5-7, 6-3.

Barty went down 5-2 in the deciding set before launching a successful recovery effort to somehow go through.

Along the way, she salvaged a match point in the ninth game to get back on serve prior to breaking for 6-5 and serving out the narrow win a game later after coming from 15-40 down.

Main photo:- Ash Barty returns to Miami to defend her 2019 title – by WTA


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