Svitolina reaches final after Bencic retirement Saturday was semi-finals day at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, and it was full of appropriate drama.
You never want to finish the match and see your opponent retiring. It’s very tough I think for her, and especially at the end of the season in one of the biggest tournaments, and you want to play well. Elina Svitolina
Defending champion Elina Svitolina has almost forgotten how to lose at this event, but she dropped her first set of the week to Belinda Bencic before coming through, 5-7 6-3 4-1, after the Swiss retired due to a nagging hamstring problem.
It was the 4th withdrawal of the tournament and it saw Svitolina into the final where she awaited the winner of the second semi between Ash Barty and Karolina Plíšková.
“You never want to finish the match and see your opponent retiring,” said Svitolina. “It’s very tough I think for her, and especially at the end of the season in one of the biggest tournaments, and you want to play well.
“It’s very sad, but hopefully she can recover and be strong for next year.”
Svitolina won in Singapore last year and now has a real chance of winning again in Shenzhen, but she had to work hard to turn things around after the Swiss was ahead for much of the opener, breaking in the 6th game to lead 4-2 when concerns first appeared and she received a medical timeout while leading 6-5.
She received treatment on her right hamstring and later explained: “I started cramping in my foot and again in my hamstring,” Bencic said.
“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.
“It doesn’t feel good that I just couldn’t do more, but obviously credit to Elina.
“She made the rallies long. She did the right things. Obviously, she has a great advantage on these kind of courts, playing great at the WTA Finals.”
Svitolina showed her intent in her first service game, firing down 3 aces to win it before the pair traded breaks midway through the set.
The first set looked destined to go to a tiebreak, with Bencic closing out the penultimate game with an ace before receiving treatment.
The delay caused Svitolina to struggle at the resumption, eventually losing her service game and the first set as Bencic moved her around the court before hitting the winning point.
It was the first set the Ukrainian had lost at this year’s WTA Finals, but she broke immediately at the start of the second and consolidated her position to take control.
Bencic, who also required on court treatment for a problem with her right foot and hamstring, started to struggle.
Svitolina broke in the final game to secure the second set, swatting Bencic’s second serve into the far corner to level the scores and take the semi-final into a deciding set.
With momentum now firmly in her corner, Svitolina lost just 4 points across the first 3 games of the final set, while the 22-year-old Swiss’s problems continued.
The Ukrainian won 4 of the first 5 games of the third set, and Bencic conceded defeat, throwing in the towel to become the 4th player to withdraw from the tournament due to illness or injury this week.
“To stay into the match, it was tough. When someone injured, [she] tries to go for more,” Svitolina said. “Actually, she was hitting the ball very good…I had to try to move her.
“This was not easy because it’s tough to find a balance when you have to really hit the ball, then when you have to try to direct the ball well.
“She was going for it. Sometimes, of course, she was missing a lot. Sometimes she was hitting amazing shots. That’s the challenge, what you have to be aware of.”
The slower-paced courts in Shenzhen certainly work to the Ukrainian’s advantage, with many other players in the field possessing more fire power.
“When I was coming to this tournament, I was expecting very, very tough matches,” said Svitolina.
“It’s the last tournament of the season and tomorrow is the last match of the season, finally.
“It’s going to be a tough one but I’m going to leave everything on the court to try to raise the cup again.”
She is on a 10-0 streak dating back to 2017, which includes her championship run last year.
The No 8 seed served a staggering 16 aces in the match, and was never broken after the first set, firing off 37 winners to just 20 unforced over the course of one hour and 49 minutes, while Bencic racked up 29 in each category, with 15 of those winners coming in the first set.
“Today was actually very good serving. At the beginning, I was serving really great,” Svitolina added. “I think this is actually my record for one match, to serve 16 aces.
“It’s something really positive. I hope I can keep it up for tomorrow’s match, as well.”
“It doesn’t matter who I’m going to play, Ashleigh or Karolina, No 1 and No 2 in the world, so you have to be ready, you have to fight.”
The Ukrainian not only has a chance to again raise the trophy at the tour’s last tournament of the year, but also take home a record-breaking $4.725 million purse after finishing undefeated in round robin play.
“I have an important match tomorrow to win. For me, I try to take one match at a time. You don’t have to think so much ahead, so much what’s going on,” she continued.
“It’s such a big tournament like this, when you straight have to play someone who is in the top 8, someone who presents straightaway the tough game and you have to be from the beginning very focused and ready, that’s what we try to do.
“It’s every match from the beginning you have to be on it, have to be focused, have to be presenting your best game, your best mental conditions, physical conditions.
“I always like to push my limits. That’s what I try to do.”
In fact, in Sunday’s final, Svitolina will face top seed Ash Barty, winner over Karolina Pliskova in 3 sets.