Osaka-Swiatek in Miami women’s final; Ruud, Alcaraz advance

  • Iga Swiatek, of Poland, hits a backhand to Jessica Pegula during the Miami Open tennis tournament Thursday, March 31, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Naomi Osaka is playing her first final in more than a year on Saturday, which certainly sounds like a comeback story.

She doesn’t see it that way.

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The unseeded Osaka will meet second-seeded Iga Swiatek in the Miami Open women’s final. It’s a matchup pitting the world’s former No. 1-ranked player against the woman who will replace the now-retired Ash Barty atop the women’s rankings on Monday.

“A lot of people have been telling me, ‘You’re back’ and stuff like that,” Osaka told reporters after qualifying for the final. “But to be honest, I don’t feel like I left, if that makes sense. I have always been this player. I just didn’t play the matches.”

Osaka was No. 1 in the world before Barty took over in 2019; Osaka started this tournament ranked No. 77 in the world in large part because she simply hasn’t played as much while working on her mental health.

Barty held that No. 1 spot since, then decided to retire last week and asked to be removed from the rankings in a move that opened the door for Swiatek to ascend to the top spot.

The last time Swiatek lost a match was in February, when she was ranked No. 9 in the world. She is 16-0 since and on the brink of completing the Sunshine Double — championships at both Indian Wells and Miami.

“I am excited for sure,” Swiatek said. “But on the other hand, for me, the most important job is this is a match like any other. I don’t want to change my routines, I don’t want to change my attitude, because it’s been working out pretty well. I’m going to treat it like any other match.”

The men’s final is Sunday. No. 6 seed Casper Ruud earned the first spot in the title match by defeating Francisco Cerundolo 6-4, 6-1 in Friday’s semifinals.

“It was a tough match, even though the scoreline said two straight sets,” said Ruud, who will be playing in a Masters 1000-level final for the first time. “It was tough.”

Ruud will face No. 14 Carlos Alcaraz in the men’s title match. Alcaraz defeated No. 8 seed Hubert Hurkacz — the defending Miami champion — 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2) on Friday night in the last semifinal.

Alcaraz, who is a month away from turning 19, is the second-youngest Miami Open finalist ever. Rafael Nadal was about a month younger than Alcaraz is now when he made the Miami final; the tournament was called the NASDAQ-100 Open then and was played at Key Biscayne. Nadal lost a five-setter in the final that year to Roger Federer.

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