Elina Svitolina got her tournament off on the right note at the Nature Valley Classic Monday afternoon. The world number five and second seed had to fight off Donna Vekic in three sets to win 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 on Ann Jones Centre Court at Edgbaston Priory Club.
This was the third meeting between the two and the first on the grass making it an interesting match for the Ukrainian. Since her early exit from the French Open, time away has been good for the world number five. She went 4-2 last year on grass, making it her least favorite surface to play on. Standing in her way this time around was the Croatian who didn’t repeat as champion during last week’s Nature Valley Open but had some time to rest before getting into the mix.
Getting deep into the rallies and pressurizing the Ukrainian, Vekic managed to win the first break. Svitolina kept the same strategy though, running and launching the ball well to create strokes on the forehand before initiating the strike volley that kept her on serve after three games. She made it 4-1, holding off the Croatian who was still faltering on first serve.
After getting the double break, Svitolina finished things off, earning three set points on serve in the seventh to close out the set in 26 minutes. Vekic’s main downfall was her return game as she struggled to respond against the 23-year-old whose forehand was too much to handle. Vekic’s coach Torben Beltz told her ways of adjusting her game and where to hit the ball at Svitolina to gain momentum in the match.
She opened the second set with a hold of serve but from then on, Svitolina took control. Unforced errors from the Croatian and a double fault in the third led to the break for the second seed. She had enough speed on service to hold the Croatian back, gaining a 3-1 lead in the process. Vekic needed a hold and quickly earned it in the fifth to stay in touch with Svitolina.
With Svitolina’s return game taking a hit, Vekic continued to serve strongly and took down the second seed in the next two games to force a third set. Beltz came back out to praise Vekic for her efforts while Andrew Bettles tried to keep Svitolina focused.
It was not easy as the Ukrainian took time to get a service hold even as Vekic leveled things up. She was broken in the third getting into a two-game hole as Svitolina held back Vekic’s attempt to break in the fourth. The second seed wanted nothing more than to stay ahead of the 21-year-old but had trouble holding serve in the fifth. Vekic attacked late in the game to force deuce which made every point critical for Svitolina. After two break points, she got the result she wanted as the Croatian got too hot with the returns.
Vekic then succumbed, allowing the 23-year-old to serve for the match. She easily attained two match points putting Vekic away on a drop shot in front of the net to close out the first round in 90 minutes.
“I was just trying to play well and dominate the match but she played a couple of great points to break me back and I lost a little bit of momentum,” Svitolina said after the match. “She was fighting back and it’s always nice to have that when you’re playing such a good player who was playing well on grass.”