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By Chris Oddo | Saturday October 27, 2018

 
Elina Svitolina

Elina Svitolina outlasted Kiki Bertens in a physical battle to book her spot in the WTA Finals title match on Saturday in Singapore.

Photo Source: Matthew Stockman/Getty

Afterthought no more. And doubters be damned.

In a week’s time, Elina Svitolina has gone from overlooked to front-and-center rising force at the WTA Finals in Singapore. Today the Ukrainian booked her spot in the final with a gritty 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-4 win over Top-10 slayer Kiki Bertens to push within one victory of what would be the biggest title of her career.


Svitolina suffered through a disappointing second half of 2018 and stumbled into Singapore having not won a title since claiming the Rome trophy in May. At that time the Ukrainian was being tabbed as a sure bet to push for a major title in Paris and for the rest of the season, but a third-round last to Mihaela Buzarnescu snapped her winning streak and hopes at Roland Garros and Svitolina finished the Grand Slam season with a round of 16 performance at the U.S. Open that left her with 25 major appearances at a major and zero appearances beyond the last four.

Add to that persistent concerns about her sudden weight loss and one gets a feel for what it’s like to be an elite talent under attack. You are either going up or going down in the cruel world of professional tennis, and just about a week ago most saw Svitolina’s stock falling.

What a difference a week makes.

Tecnifibre T-Fight

Since her opening salvo in Singapore—and accompanying message for the haters—the Ukrainian has surged back into the conversation. Can she do what Caroline Wozniacki did last year and ride the momentum of a red-hot run at the WTA Finals into a breakthrough major performance in Australia?

Perhaps that’s pushing the conversation a little too far down the road, but for now the mere possibility of such a breakthrough, and the fact that tennis fans are once again intrigued by Svitolina’s game and talents, is a good sign.

On Saturday, facing Bertens for the third time, Svitolina did nothing to disappoint. She battled furiously, letting her trademark defense and consistency do the work on the slow-playing hardcourts of Singapore, and outlasted a menacing Bertens in a protracted battle.


"It was such a tough battle today and I'm very happy I could win in the end. It means a lot to me," Svitolina told Andrew Krazny on-court after the match. "I think physically, in the end, it was just about running and chasing every ball down. I think the level was very tough and we were both playing very good tennis. I'm very pleased that I could stay in the match and close it."

After dropping a hard-fought middle set Svitolina locked things down in the final set, saving five of six break points in total, including a pair in the final game as she served out the match to clinch victory in two hours and 30 minutes.

Svitolina’s unrelenting defense coaxed 61 unforced errors from Bertens’ racquet, and the Dutchwoman’s brilliant season finishes with a record of 46-23, including a remarkable 12 Top 10 wins. It was a fairy tale season from Bertens, who considered hanging up the racquet after a particularly gloomy finish to the 2017 season, but she played with renewed vigor this season and proved to be a menacing force not just on her beloved clay but on all surfaces.

But she gives way to Svitolina, who has played with fire and determination and has truly earned her right to play in the most prestigious final of her career.

The 24-year-old improves to 43-15 on the season and will face either Sloane Stephens or Karolina Pliskova in Sunday’s final.

It has been a challenging year for Svitolina, but this week tennis fans are getting a glimpse of what she’s made of—suddenly the future looks bright once again.

 

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