during the Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium on April 4, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert / Miami Open)

Aoyama, Shibahara win Miami Open for their third title of the year

No.5 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara won their third title of the season and perhaps the biggest of their careers at the Miami Open with a 6-2, 7-5 win over No.8 seeds Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani.

“Miami Open was one of the few tournaments that I was really looking forward to playing, especially because I was born and raised in the U.S.,” Shibahara said. “Indian Wells/Miami are like the sunshine tournaments. Every time it would be playing on my TV screen when I was little, I was, like, I want to play on this stage. For me, this title is really special.”

In a reprise of the Abu Dhabi final, where Aoyama and Shibahara defeated Carter and Stefani 7-6(4), 6-4, the Japanese duo dominated the start and end of the contest, saving a set point in the second set en route to winning five games in a row. The result extends their winning streak in finals to six, including a Tour-leading total of three in 2021, and their head-to-head over Carter and Stefani to 3-1.

“We have played Hayley and Luisa many, many times and knew that they were going to fight till the end, get every ball back,” Shibahara said. “I think we started off really well finding those passing shots when we needed them.”

The American-Brazilian duo would have turned the tables in the second set thanks to some superb hustle and several brilliant hotshots, including a backhand winner from wide of the net post from Carter and a lunging volley save from Stefani. This took them to a lead of 5-2 and set point – before Aoyama halted the comeback in its tracks.

The most experienced player on court, 33-year-old Aoyama saved the set point with a barrage of double-fisted forehands before leading the final charge to the title. Carter dropped serve at 5-5 with her third double fault, and Shibahara unleashed some power to seal her team’s third championship point in the next game.

Aoyama and Shibahara become the first Japanese champions in Miami since Ai Sugiyama, who won the title here twice – in 2000 with Julie Halard-Decugis and in 2008 Katarina Srebotnik. Having snapped a four-match losing streak coming into this fortnight, their first WTA 1000 title also extends their 2021 record to 15-4.

“Honestly I can’t believe [we won Miami] because it’s a very big tournament, next to a Grand Slam,” Aoyama said. “We can get more confidence. We want to try to play at the Grand Slam like today.”