New York | Svitolina stops Konta’s run
Elina Svitolina has risen to as high as No 3 in the world in 2017 and has remained in the Top 10 ever since.
That was the probably the best I felt her play against me. She just made me play that extra ball Johanna Konta
On Tuesday, the Ukrainian continued her dominance over Britain’s Johanna Konta in their quarter-final encounter on Arthur Ashe Stadium for a place in the US Open semis, winning in straight sets in an hour and 39 minutes.
The 5th-seeded Ukrainian improved her record against Konta to 5-0 with a resilient 6-4 6-4 win against the No 16 seed, who was trying to reach her first US Open semi-final and become only the 6th active female player to reach the Last 4 in all four Grand Slam.
Konta has overcome prior unfavourable head-to-heads already at this year’s US Open, beating Karolina Pliskova for only the second time in 8 attempts, but Svitolina, who reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, was too consistent and too steady for the Brit on this occasion.
For a place in the final, the 24-year-old will face 6-time US Open champion Serena Williams, who dispatched 18th seed Qiang Wang of China in 44 minutes with the loss of only 1 game in the night session in Ashe.
“Not every day you’re playing quarter-final of a Grand Slam. And to win that, it’s something special. Yeah, just very happy the way I handled the pressure,” Svitolina said. “[I was relieved] I could serve it out, because I had the match point on 5-3.
“I was very close but in the same, you know, I was very far because to serve it out is definitely very tough under the pressure.”
With both players serving solidly from the outset, the key passage of play in the first set was a run of 4 games midway through, that all featured at least one break point.
Svitolina struck first, taking advantage of a series of backhand mistakes from Konta by stepping in to hammer an off forehand return to move up 3-2, but a brace of scorching down-the-line winners paved the way for the Brit to hit back immediately.
Unfazed, the Ukrainian came up with a couple of magnificently angled backhand passes to take the lead again, and this time fended off the break-back point with an ace to consolidate it.
It was evident that Konta was attempting to bring more of her repertoire to the court in her bid for a first victory over Svitolina and, to that end, the 28-year-old deployed drop-shots, slices and net forays to a greater extent than usual to accompany her signature power.
At times, it paid off, with Konta winning 11 of 16 points at the net, but by the end of the opener, Svitolina was beginning to anticipate the changes of pace, and it was with an awkwardly chopped slice, sent beyond the baseline, that the Brit lost set point on her 15th unforced error.
The crucial section of the second set was its middle, where, in the 5th game, Konta was frustrated again after being unable to make headway into a Svitolina service game, collapsing on her backhand side to fall behind a break.
She doggedly fought back with her forehand, taking a break-back point with a reflex, sliced, drop-shot that surprised everyone.
Coming up with some of her best serves to stave off potential turning points, Svitolina only faced break points in 2 games and, once she had moved up 4-3 in the second set, this solidity saw her over the line.
By contrast, Konta struggled to maintain control of her groundstrokes as she racked up 35 unforced errors to 24 winners.
Konta battled valiantly to save 2 match points with un-returnable serves, and came out full throttle on her groundstrokes as Svitolina served for the win, but the defensive work from the Ukrainian, including a running backhand pass that inspired the crowd to stand in ovation, sealed the match on her 3rd opportunity.
Svitolina, who has yet to drop a set this fortnight, struck 4 aces and 16 winners to only 13 unforced errors to become the first ever Ukrainian semi-finalist at Flushing Meadows.
“All my career I have been going step by step,” explained Svitolina, reflecting on the time it has taken her to break through to this stage of a major. “I was going very slowly…
“I was quite consistent, I would say, but I had some tough matches [in the] round of 16, quarter-finals before I started to win them.
“It’s been tough and painful losses sometimes, but I think they gave me this push, this confidence and maybe helped me in some matches…
“There are some players [who] raced and then jumped because of injury or something else.
“Me, I was more consistent with my game maybe, and not winning so many matches on the Grand Slam before. Probably this was a little bit of an issue – but not any more.”
Svitolina was able to respond to everything Konta threw at her from the back of the court, rallying from both sides and challenging the Brit’s forays forward.
Konta tried to mix it up and take Svitolina out of her rhythm, tossing in backhand slices but, all too often, the British No 1 left them short or floated them to the Ukrainian, who happily stepped in the court to take control.
“That was the probably the best I felt her play against me,” said Konta, who finished with 35 unforced errors and 24 winners.
“She just made me play that extra ball.”
Svitolina, the 2018 WTA Finals champion, continues to back up her biggest title to date, showing at the Slams that she belongs in the Top 5.
Ironically, her finest Grand Slam season to date has been accompanied by her worst trophy haul since she first emerged on Tour.
A Tour-leading 5 titles in 2017 were followed by 4 in 2018, but in each of those years Svitolina would only reach one major quarter-final.
This year, the Odessa native has an Australian Open quarter-final, Wimbledon semi-final and at least a US Open semi-final under her belt, but no titles so far.
“I think I’m generally stronger,” explained Svitolina. “Mentally I’m handling the pressure points better.
“For sure, sometimes it’s possible that you’re not there on that day, not playing your best.
“But you try to find your own path, your own way how to handle those kind of moments.
“And I think since Singapore I handled the pressure very good. When I’m fit and when I’m ready to play, I can play very solid and have very good baseline game. [Singapore] gave me the belief I can play very consistent against the top players.”
Facing Serena in New York will be a new challenge for Svitolina, who trails in their head-to-head, 1-4, but the Ukrainian won their last meeting at the 2016 Rio Olympics, in straight sets.
Konta insisted she had ‘no regrets’ that a major final still eludes, having had a good year at the Slams, reaching the semi-finals of the French Open and the quarters of both Wimbledon and the US Open.
“I definitely think it’s just, you know, the more opportunities I give myself like this, the more chances I have in going a step further and even more steps further,” Konta said.
“I don’t have any regrets, or any hindsight in what I did before or during the match. I think I did a lot of good things.
“I think I can definitely still get better and better, especially against an opponent like today.
“Yeah, no, I can take a lot of good things from this still.
“Actually, I didn’t play badly at all. I actually felt like I was doing a lot of good things out there, a lot of the right things.
“Like you observed, I mean, she just made me play that extra ball. I mean, yeah. I mean, it’s frustrating.
“You know, I would have loved to have come through that and come through a challenge like her, but I guess it will just have to be next time.”