Elina Svitolina was denied her chance for a three-peat at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. The world number five who was eyeing her third consecutive title defense was trounced by Sloane Stephens who dominated early on holding the Ukrainian at bay with a 6-3, 6-3 win on Court Central at IGA Stadium.
The two haven’t met since they got their careers started in the right direction. The Ukrainian took one on clay while the American won against her in the hard courts. While four years have spanned since then, they both find themselves on a collision course with a spot in the final up for grabs. The journey has been solid for them having yet to drop a set which would ultimately change.
The 23-year-old looked to win her third back to back title this season standing as defending champion. Stephens was ready to take her down eyeing her title defense at the US Open fast approaching. A victory for the world number three would be a great position to be of she could get the start she wanted.
The 25-year-old won an early break as Svitolina had trouble painting the ball where she wanted it to go. The same went for Stephens on her serve in the second letting the Ukrainian in but held to gain her small lead. The American was showing her speed that continued to get the best of Svitolina but the world number five struck back to force deuce. It was not meant to be her moment to get on the board as Stephens attacked to retain the AD point and take a 3-0 hold.
Both kept up the big shots with Stephens delivering big hits on the first serve that at times had Svitolina beaten with her second serve return unable to with the same intensity. When they went into the fourth the Ukrainian battled to try and get on the board but failed after nearly nine minutes played only to see the American hold her dominance. The world number five found her time to strike and get her first hold of serve in the books but there was a lot of work to do to make a comeback like she did 24 hours ago.
Stephens kept that opportunity down taking another hold of serve in the sixth that gave her a shot for a break to end the set. Svitolina wouldn’t let her get another one under her belt by securing the service again before calling down coach Andrew Bettles who told her to commit to the second serve and acknowledged her improvements. She put the words of encouragement to use as she gained a break on Stephens before trying to hunt down another. It wouldn’t come as the American battled to capture the chance for set point and put the Ukrainian away after 48 minutes.
Kamau Murray came down to speak with Stephens on how to adjust going into the next set and dictate her way to finish the match her way. She scored her first serve to love to start the second set and upped her first serve to fire off cross court returns during the rallies in the third that kept her out front. Stephens gained a break in the fourth fighting back the hard-hitting Ukrainian who had a lock in the rallies but didn’t hold the serve.
It was becoming a tough time for the 23-year-old who missed keys shots in the fifth game that saw her struggle to deuce. A double fault from Stephens opened the door but another forehand error brought a second break in the game. They went to four with the American having a difficult time keeping the AD point locked. She double-faulted once more in the game but got out of it gaining a fourth AD point with a great finish to the rally. It still wasn’t coming to her as they reached an eighth break where after 12 minutes and 49 seconds, the 25-year old gained a big hold to sit 4-1.
Bettles came out to keep Svitolina together telling her to go after it playing point by point to strike back. The fifth seed delivered with her first serve to love against the American sitting two games down. It was clear that the talk continued to work the way Bettles wanted it to gain a huge break that put the score at 4-3 in favour of the American. Murray came out during the break to tell her that it was her match and that she had the opportunity to get it done by digging in and engage the offence.
Stephens did so when the moment was right and Svitolina was vulnerable with the errors. With two break point chances, the third seed nailed the last one with a big forehand winner that gave her a 5-3 stance serving for the match. With her eyes on the prize, the third seed finished off Svitolina with a final cross-court winner that gave her the massive win after 1 hour and 38 minutes.
Stephens had the edge on Svitolina serving 68 per cent with her having three double faults in one game of the second set. Despite the tremendous fight against the Ukrainian, she earned the result that got her into her first final of the tournament. She will have a challenge on her hands facing world number one Simona Halep on Sunday.