Qatar Total Open: Svitolina's focus earns her big win over Ostapenko
Elina Svitolina earned a much-needed win at the Qatar Total Open on Wednesday. After being absent for some time, the number one Ukrainian returned to action, taking down Jelena Ostapenko in a tough 6-4, 6-4 straight-set win on center court at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex. It was the first win in three tries against the Latvian, making it a very good start back to the Tour.
This was the third meeting between the two European stars and was surely one key moment for the Ukrainian. Svitolina returned to competition for the first time in three weeks since her loss to eventual Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka. While she needed to deal with a strain in her neck and shoulder, the 24-year-old had a serious challenge to start her tournament run.
Ostapenko has one win against her on hard courts and despite her tough beginning on Tuesday, the Latvian took the trouble in her stride to come out victorious. With Svitolina continuing to become a much stronger player on the WTA, it marked yet an opportunity for Svitolina to change up the series and end her losing streak to Ostapenko.
She started with a service that soon became a crosscourt rally with Ostapenko who hit the ball a little too hard with each return. It led to the Ukrainian holding serve and was followed by her challenge of the Latvian’s game.
Free points came to the fourth seed but despite having to play beyond deuce, Svitolina took advantage of the second break point with a net-front game-winning return. Aggressive ball striking allowed Ostapenko to dig in but the actions were returned in kind by the 24-year-old, following which the game progressed to deuce. She committed her second double fault of the set, needing Ostapenko’s assistance to create mistakes. She did so on the third break point, sending another return into the net for a three-game losing streak.
Ostapenko soon called her mother and coach Jelena Jakoleva out for a quick chat, who told her to be patient and find her moment to strike back with strength. She did so in the fourth game, ending the shutout with aggression and control. Consolidating a break in the next game was denied by Svitolina who defended her end during the late rallies to hold and regain a three-game buffer. Despite the gap, Ostapenko had her service game under control that helped her cut the Ukrainian’s lead in half. She managed to break back successfully due to Svitolina’s fourth double fault and a forehand shot landing wide of the baseline.
With a game separating the two going into the eighth game, Ostapenko pushed herself to be strong and dominate her opponent with tremendous crosscourt and positioning. It paid off after two breaks that closed the gap, putting Svitolina on notice. The fourth seed made sure to hold in the ninth before she called down coach Andrew Bettles who told her to stay aggressive and be intense to keep the pressure on Ostapenko and clear her way to leading the match.
The Latvian made serious mistakes on serve that gave Svitolina two set points. She won it on a great finish to the rally where she fired back a line drive that the 21-year-old couldn’t get to in time, completing 41 minutes of action on court. It was a tight set with both landing double-digit winners and the same amount of unforced errors. Svitolina only won five more than Ostapenko but would try to increase her margin going on.
She started the second set with a serve to love followed by a good hold from Ostapenko containing the service. A chance for a break came in the third game but her opponent turned it around to force a deuce and look for a way to hold.
Despite landing her fourth ace, it didn’t help with holding off the Latvian who gained another chance and clinched the break to lead for the first time in the match. Svitolina answered with a break back followed by a serve to love that put her back in front. It was a cause for concern that had Ostapenko calling out her mother for advice and how to counter the attack.
The Ukrainian didn’t let her into the seventh game where she maintained her position to hold against Ostapenko. Bettles came back out to keep Svitolina focused and charged up asking her to make some small adjustments and continue playing every point. She eyed a break of the Latvian but lost ground in the eighth game to go to deuce. It didn’t take much time to gain the AD point, catching a spot to fire the ball and earn a chance to serve for the match.
The 21-year-old wasn’t going down without a fight and made her push to convert a break in the game. During the final point, Ostapenko fired a return that was called in but as Svitolina wanted to challenge, she missed her chance but would have been denied as the ball caught the line.
It gave Ostapenko hope for a third set to be played but the Ukrainian looked to end it anyway she could. She fell behind due to a well-focused service game from the Latvian but an error and double fault brought it to deuce. Svitolina was gifted the AD point on a wide return from Ostapenko followed by a shot into the net that saved her day in 1 hour and 20 minutes.
“It was tough conditions today so we had to adjust,” Svitolina said during her on-court interview. “It was a little bit up and down but, in the end, I was very pleased with the way I was serving throughout the match and I had to fight for every ball and I’m very pleased that I could get a win in the end.”
She’ll face Karolina Muchova in the third round on Thursday to attempt to go further than ever before.