Shenzhen | Svitolina opens title defence with Pliskova win
With focus on the Purple Group on Day 2 of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, defending champion Elina Svitolina came through a tight contest after needing nearly two hours to defeat the No 2 seed Karolina Pliskova, 7-6(12) 6-4.
I had to really mentally be tough, try to don't think so much because obviously she's a great player. I had to expect that she would step up her game. Elina Svitolina
For the second year running, these familiar foes are in the same group, when Svitolina won their round-robin match in 3 equally tight sets, having lost to the Czech in their first 5 meetings.
“I think I became more complete player. I started to play much better. I’m mentally stronger,” she assessed of her turnaround in the head-to-head.
“I don’t really think about those head-to-heads. I know I’m more consistent now than the game what I was before when we were playing. I think that’s what’s gives me those wins.”
It augurs well for the Ukrainian who, every time she has beaten Pliskova, has gone on to win the title – as well as last year’s clash, she also won their 2017 Rome quarter-final and their 2018 Brisbane semi-final.
Coming from an early break down in the opener, Svitolina survived a titanic tiebreak, in which she ultimately needed 7 set points to win the set, and saved 1 against her.
“You tell yourself to stay in the moment. You just try to play one rally at a time, to don’t rush,” Svitolina revealed after the match.
“Even when I had the chances to finish the set, because there was few, I thought I could play better.
“You just have to quickly restart and just try to take one point at a time, don’t rush and don’t get down on yourself.
“I had to really mentally be tough, try to don’t think so much because obviously she’s a great player. I had to expect that she would step up her game.
“Some of the shots were really amazing. What I had to do, I had just to try to get another chance, try to get the point going and to find my way into the match. She was serving couple of times for the set. It was tough.
“I always know when I am tough mentally, I get another chance.”
The champion in Singapore wrapped up the match in a similarly lengthy 2nd set, where she saw an early break of her own slip away, only to win 4 of the last 5 games to wrap up her 4th straight victory against the former World No 1.
From 0-2 down in the 2nd set, Pliskova won 3 straight games to take her first lead of the set, but dropped serve at 3-3 to put the Ukrainian back in front.
Tested on serve in the last two games to seal the win, Svitolina held her nerve from 40-0 up in the eighth game, ultimately holding from deuce, and saved two break points in the last game to wrap up the match.
This 4th straight victory for the Ukrainian over the Czech puts her at the top of the Purple Group.
She won 4 points more than her rival and played better in the decisive moments to seal the deal in straight sets, but it was a gruelling affair.
Pliskova had 37 winners, but also 42 unforced errors, while Svitolina scored to 21 winners and 16 miscues, taming her strokes nicely to top the standings before the second clash in this group between Bianca Andreescu and Simona Halep.
Defending her second serve well, Svitlonia faced only 4 break points, suffering 2 breaks and earning 3 breaks from 8 opportunities on the return as she pushed Pliskova’s second serve to the limits.
The tall Czech drew first blood in the opening game with a perfect drop shot, but then sprayed a backhand error in the 4th to lose her serve and letting Svitolina back in at 2-2.
They stayed neck and neck for the remaining of the set, with no opportunities on the returns until the tiebreak that proved to be a real roller-coaster ride, taking 26 points to resolve, the longest breaker on tour this year.
Pliskova wasted a set point at 9-8 but it was all about Svitolina who, in the end, converted her 7th set point at 13-12 with a deep return, securing the opener in 64 minutes and gathering the momentum ahead of set 2.
“That was probably one of the longest tie-breaks I have played,” Svitolina said on court.
“I was just trying to be ready for her big serves today. I tried to move quickly and react quickly. The slightly slower surface gave me a bit more time.
“It’s a big privilege to return to this event. I still can’t believe I won it last year.”
Then, Svitolina’s break in the 7th game of the second proved decisive.
As in the opener, they traded breaks in games 1 and 4 before the Ukrainian grabbed another at 3-3 following a loose forehand from Pliskova, moving 4-3 up and serving for the victory in the 10th game.
Pliskova fought for every point, creating 2 break chances but it wasn’t to be for her, with 2 service winners from Svitolina, who sealed the deal with another one to make a winning start in Shenzhen.
It was the World No 8’s seventh successive win in the WTA Finals.
By virtue of winning in two sets, the No.7 seed now tops the Purple Group, which also includes Wimbledon champion Simona Halep and US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.
“There is always pressure, I would say, because you see, last year, I won two matches, then I had to win one more set. I almost lost the match, almost [was] not qualified for the semi-finals,” she said.
“There is always pressure. You always have to be up there, always have to bring your best game. Until the last point is done, you have to fight for every single point, every single game.
“That’s why round-robins are extremely tough, because you never know what’s going to happen. You have to give everything each time you step on the court.”
The lone member of the elite 8 to not reach a final in 2019, but the defending champion has her eyes on similar success to close out her season.
“I think biggest motivation is to get the trophy this year. This is my last chance. I try to win as many matches as I can. That’s the biggest motivation for me,” she said.
“I always try to bring my best game. Just to be here it’s already amazing achievement for everyone. Everyone is a champion. You have to bring your best game.”
US Open champion and World No 4 Bianca Andreescu of Canada took on Romania’s World No 5 Simona Halep in Monday’s late match.
The WTA Finals event sees the world’s top 8 players compete in 2 round-robin groups of 4, with the winners and runners-up advancing to the semi-finals at the weekend.
Svitolina is in the Purple Group alongside Pliskova, Halep and Andreescu, while the Red Group features Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Petra Kvitova and Belinda Bencic, who will play again on Tuesday.