Elina Svitolina seems to have finally come of age, winning the biggest title of her career – the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore.
She has been a constant presence in the top 20 since 2015, and has even reached a career-high world number 3 ranking. But she has had the reputation of under-performing in the really big tournaments such as the Grand Slams. This season she seems to have turned a corner. She began the year by winning the Brisbane International title. Then she reached her first Australian Open Quarter Final.
She defended both of her titles at Dubai and Rome, the latter, by defeating the top seed Simona Halep. But beginning with a shock third-round loss in the French Open, she experienced a dip in form that continued for several months and even threatened her qualification into the year-end WTA finals.
And even when she qualified for the WTA finals, she was not expected to go deep as she had lost four of the six matches prior to that. But the decision to skip a couple of tournaments before coming to Singapore seemed to have given her the much-needed rest. Both physically and mentally, she looked sharp from the word go.
She shocked everyone by topping her group in Singapore without losing a single match. She defeated the pre-tournament favourite Petra Kvitova and the defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, along with Karolina Pliskova. During those matches, especially against Wozniacki, she showed remarkable fight when the chips were down and turned the matches in her favour. She carried on that fighting spirit to the semi-final and defeated the impressive giant-killer, debutante Kiki Bertens in three tight sets.
And now in the final, she has defeated a player who is possibly the most difficult opponent one could face. Sloane Stephens’ record in tournament finals is astounding, to say the least. She is a big match player, and rarely loses a final. And the way Sloane opened the match by breaking Svitolina, it seemed her big-match experience was going to see her through in yet another final.
But after losing the first set, Svitolina re-focused and came out firing on all cylinders in the second set. The roles seemed to have reversed with Sloane looking shaky and Svitolina uber-confident. The rallies continued to be long, but it was Svitolina who was coming out on top in most of those. The 3-6,6-2,6-2 score-line reflects how she had turned the match in her favour in the last two sets.
For a player who has never reached the semi-final of any Grand Slam despite being one of the top players in WTA circuit for quite some time, winning the WTA Finals, which is considered to be the fifth Grand Slam of the year, could be a turning point in Svitolina’s career. This could be the harbinger of better things to come in future. Don’t be surprised if she wins her first Slam in 2019.Published 28 Oct 2018, 20:25 IST