Elina Svitolina took one giant step into the end of 2018 at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Saturday afternoon. The 24-year-old world number seven had another thrilling match, this time against Kiki Bertens, who gave it her all in a 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-4 match on centre court at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
This was the first anyone from Ukraine made it to the final match of the tennis season and remained undefeated in the event with her fourth straight victory.
The two met twice splitting victories at the WTA Elite tournament in 2016 and at Cincinnati this season where the Dutch star won in straight sets. With three consecutive wins under her belt in Singapore, Svitolina looked to keep up her winning ways by advancing to the final for the first time ever.
After locking down the second set against defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, the 24-year-old would try to get revenge over Bertens who already recorded a loss so far. With a short finish Friday, where she played one set before Naomi Osaka, the 26-year-old in her first run of the tournament, would push herself to get another win over the Ukrainian.
A tight contest
Svitolina opened with a service hold followed by Bertens who had a stronger one than her opponent. It began to become a question on consistency as the 24-year-old held again in the third while the Dutch star struggled. She double-faulted in the fourth that gave Svitolina the AD point break chance taking a 3-1 lead. Bertens wouldn’t let the gap get any bigger and broke back in the fifth before consolidating it with a key hold to level the playing field.
Svitolina went back to holding the seventh before calling coach Andrew Bettles who gave her a few adjustments on how to keep control of the lead. Another hold from end saw the sixth seed battling to win two set points, clinching it in 57 minutes. Svitolina had a better second serve that got her a set up against Bertens. While there weren’t significant differences in their games, the leverage was in the Ukrainian’s hands to go for it in the second.
Bertens wouldn’t let her get the start she wanted breaking her in the first game before holding for a 2-0 run. As she found herself in a good rhythm it gave her a chance to pressure the sixth seed and find a way to control the set Svitolina got on the scoreboard but continued to trail despite having her offence locked down going forward.
By the time they got to the ninth, the 24-year-old went for the break against the Dutch star who at times couldn’t play against Svitolina’s return game. She saved four game points to force deuce and win it to level the set a five-all and hunt down a shot at the match.
An enthralling pendulum
Svitolina got within a game of the final putting down a terrific shutout of Bertens who was beating herself with bad returns from the forehand. It left with one last chance to speak to coach Raemon Sluiter to get out of trouble. Bertens stayed calm to deal with Svitolina and push her to a tiebreak that she would search to extend her time on the court. Every point between the two was huge with Bertens and Svitolina neck and neck in the tiebreaker.
The 26-year-old kept an edge on Svitolina enough to give herself a set point at 6-5 to send them to a third set after playing 56 minutes. Bertens had 17 winners that helped her get into this spot recording the eighth three setter played at the event.
The key to entering Sunday’s final would be the unforced errors as Bertens had 18 to Svitolina’s 11. Keeping that number one would assure one of them to take another step forward and try to become champion.
Svitolina kept her eyes on the prize breaking Bertens before going for the hold. Just when it looked as if she would have it, Bertens rallied back to force deuce that extended for some time. She got four break point chances through seven breaks before the last one did the trick. It was again another tight race for the two that saw Bertens broken for the double break. It gave Svitolina two-game margin but not enough to keep her opponent down.
The 26-year-old struck back to keep fighting and rage back with all the effort left. She got within a game when Svitolina served for the match that didn’t go her way. Bertens dug in to force deuce in the tenth where she had the opportunities but couldn’t lock them down. It gave the Ukrainian a huge chance at ending it on her terms which came after a good rally that ended with Bertens popping a return that came back landing wide of the net ending the match in 2 hours and 38 minutes.
“It was an epic match and I’m very happy to be going into the last match of the season,” Svitolina said to Andrew Krasny after the match. “In the end, it was about running and chasing every ball and I think the level was very tough and we both played good tennis and serving, but I’m pleased that I could stay in the match and close it.”
She’ll await the winner between Karolina Pliskova and Sloane Stephens that will put the finishing touch to the 2018 season. “There is still a lot of work tomorrow and whoever ill play is gonna be there and it’s gonna be very tough. It’ll be the last match of the year so I’ll leave everything on the court.”