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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, January 18, 2018

 
Elina Svitolina

The all-Ukrainian clash was more fizzle than sizzle as Elina Svitolina swept 15-year-old qualifier Marta Kostyuk to reach the AO fourth round for the first time.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

A warm embrace at net on a brutally broiling afternoon was the only time 15-year-old phenom Marta Kostyuk came close to Elina Svitolina.

A highly-anticipated all-Ukrainian clash did not live up the hype.

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Largely because Svitolina played with buzz-kill efficiency.

Playing with clarity to beat the heat, Svitolina served 71 percent, pumped five aces and permitted just six points on first serve dismissing Kostyuk, 6-2, 6-2, to reach the Australian Open fourth round for the first time in six Melbourne Park appearances.




Staring down a red-hot opponent eight years her junior, Svitolina played a premium on competing every point and expediency.

“It was a bit strange because you know I’m also 23 years old so I’m pretty young as well,” Svitolina told Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim afterwards. “It was strange to play against someone who is much younger than me. I’m happy I could win and played pretty solid.

“I was trying to play as short time as I could and it was quite tough but I expected much tougher just happy that I could finish in two sets and have enough extra time to recover.”




Empowered by her run to the Brisbane title earlier this month, Svitolina raised her 2018 record to 8-0 and remains the bookmakers favorite to break through and win her maiden major.

Oddsmakers stake Svitolina as 9/2 to take the title—ahead of Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, 2016 champion Angelique Kerber and 2008 titlist Maria Sharapova.

The fourth-seeded Svitolina is one of five women with a shot to seize the world No. 1 ranking by going the distance here. And Svitolina knows she has a very accomodating draw to make that journey to the top a reality.

Svitolina will face a qualifier for the third time in four matches when she takes on Denisa Allertova for a spot in the quarterfinals. The 130th-ranked Allertova lashed 23 winners in a 6-1, 6-4 mauling of Magda Linette.

Talented qualifier Kostyuk was riding an 11-match winning streak at Melbourne Park—including her victories capturing the 2017 junior title and her qualifying victories—and surged through seven straight points to start today’s all-Ukrainian clash.

The pair exchanged breaks to open before Kostyuk’s serve went on the blink. Crashing her fifth double fault into net, Kostyuk confronted a third break point. Pouncing on a second serve, Svitolina took charge with a rousing return then ripped a forehand breaking for 4-2.

Kostyuk clanked her sixth double fault to face triple set point. Taking a return on a rise, Svitolina knocked the teenager back with biting drive banging out her third break to take the 29-minute opener.

The Kostyuk serve is a smooth motion, but she sometimes struggles to control the sec-1, 6ond serve. The junior champion plays quickly on serve—refreshing in today’s tennis when towel trips can be players’ pacifiers—and when she’s down she has a tendency to rush through service games. A meager 33 percent first-serve percentage certainly did not help matters, but Kostyuk is a player with great promise because she can play from anywhere on the court and is adept at carving out angles.

Moving the ball side-to-side to keep her compatriot moving, Svitolina surrendered just four points in her final three service games of the set.

Inexperience cost Kostyuk the opening break of the second set. Svitolina shrewdly played down the middle, even mixing in a slice forehand, coaxing Kostyuk into spraying an over-ambitious forehand. Kostyuk possesses fluid and forcing groundstrokes, but forced the issue trying to shorten point. Netting a drop shot, she slapped a ball into the court in an outburst reminiscent of a young Vera Zvonareva as Svitolina broke for the fourth time.

All the work Svitolina has put into strengthening her serve was on display in the second set. She probed all corners of the box permitting just two points in three service holds extending to 4-1.

Slashing a 110 mph ace down the middle—her fifth of the match—helped Svitolina stamp her third love hold for 5-2.

When the skittish Kostyuk spun her ninth double fault into the net, Svitolina was through to her first Australian Open fourth round in 59 minutes.


 

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