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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, November 2, 2019

 
Belinda Bencic

Elina Svitolina held a 5-7, 6-3, 4-1 lead when Belinda Bencic retired sending the defending champion into her second straight WTA Finals championship match.

Photo credit: WTA Finals Shenzhen Facebook

Elina Svitolina continues her compelling fall rise.

Svitolina held a 5-7, 6-3, 4-1 lead over Belinda Bencic when the seventh-seeded Swiss retired with an assortment of injuries sending defending champion Svitolina into her second straight WTA Finals title match in Shenzhen.

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It was Svitolina's 10th straight victory at the season-ending event securing her spot in the final against either world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty or second-ranked Karolina Pliskova.




Svitolina, who owns an outstanding 13-2 career record in finals, will play for her first title of the season tomorrow.

"Definitely you never want to finish the match [this way] and to you see your opponent retiring," Svitolina told Andrew Krasny afterward. "Very tough for her especially at the end of the season in one of the biggest tournaments.

"You want to play well. Hopefully, she can recover and be strong for next year."

The 22-year-old Bencic battled apparent back, leg and foot issues becoming the latest casualty of a demanding season in Shenzhen. Bencic's retirement comes after US Open champion Bianca Andreescu (knee injury), Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka (sore shoulder) and alternate Kiki Bertens (stomach issue) all pulled the plug in Shenzhen.

Though US Open semifinalist Svitolina is often typecast as a defensive counter-puncher, she's showed a stinging serve this week.

A day after Svitolina cracked 11 aces in a 7-6(10), 7-5 win over American alternate Sofia Kenin, she smacked 16 aces and served 61 percent today. 




The 25-year-old Ukrainian belted 37 winners against a hobbled opponent and most importantly maintained her focus during Bencic's multiple medical timeouts.

"When I was coming to this tournament definitely I was expecting very, very tough matches," Svitolina said. "Tomorrow is the last match of the season finally. It’s gonna be tough one, but I’m gonna leave everything on the court to try to raise the cup again."

The last woman to qualify for the season-ending tournament was betrayed by her body.

"I started cramping in my foot and again in my hamstring," Bencic told the media in Shenzhen. "I really didn't want to retire. I tried. Sometimes, I just tried to make a good serve, play no rallies. It just wasn't enough.

"I wanted to finish the match. It was not possible. I'm really disappointed about how my body failed me."

Both women are sniper returners skilled on the counter strike. Bencic can hit a bit bigger, while Svitolina is speedier around the court.

Elina unleashed her inner Serena opening with a three-ace game and following with a two-ace game for 2-all.




Driving the ball beautifully down the line, Bencic saved a break point and dabbed a half volley winner holding in the fifth game.

The seventh-seeded Swiss zapped a return winner breaking for 4-2, but Svitolina broke right back in the seventh game.

The Wimbledon semifinalist stamped a solid service game to level again after 10 games. Bencic banged an ace holding for 6-5 then took a medical timeout for treatment of an apparent back issue that gave Svitolina plenty of time to think about serving to extend the set.

Shoveling a slice forehand long, a jittery Svitolina sprayed a diagonal forehand wide to face double-set point. Svitolina saved the first on an error and slid an ace down the middle to deny the second. Scattering a backhand, Svitolina faced a third set point.

A terrific all-court rally saw the Swiss stay alive with a perfectly placed running lob then thump a backhand down the line snatching the 53-minute opener with a furious fist pump and shout to her support box.

Bencic’s 15 winners were three more than Svitolina, who hammered eight aces.

It was the first set the defending champion dropped in the tournament.

At the start of the second set, Bencic began looking a bit pained and gimpy.

Wincing at times, Bencic was sometimes bending over clutching at her leg at times. Svitolina broke to start the second set and quickly consolidated for 2-0.




The Swiss took treatment again for apparent right leg and foot injuries. A focused Svitolina was not deterred, saving a couple of break points to hold for 4-2.

Working the ball side-to-side, Svitolina continuously hit into the open court frustrating her opponent further. Serving to extend the set, a pained Bencic blurted to her support box “can you support me?”




Slamming a forehand into the corner, Svitolina scored her third break to snatch the second set.

Before the start of the final set, Svitolina’s coach, Andrew Bettles, came out and advised his charge to ignore Bencic’s issues and take care of business.

“You gotta be really clear on what you want to do,” Bettles said. “Focus on yourself—don’t even think about her. Focus on yourself and your own game and everything you can control.”

Taking it to heart, Svitolina jerked Bencic around, waited for a high mid-court ball to bounce and fired a diagonal forehand breaking for a 2-0 third-set lead.

Svitolina slammed an ace for a 4-1 lead when Bencic walked to the net, shook hands and retired.

 

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