Elina Svitolina battled past both Aryna Sabalenka and the rain at the Internationaux de Strasbourg on Friday to advance into the final where she will meet Elena Rybakina in the championship match on Saturday.
Each match, I’m playing better and better. I played some good matches against top players, in Rome as well. I have the final tomorrow, so it’s important for me to take every match and move forward from there. I think it was just fighting spirit in the end. I was just trying to be really strong, and I got a few unforced errors from Aryna, and I think I was fighting until the end, even at 0-40 down. Elina Svitolina
For Sabalenka, it was her second match of the day, having survived against Katerina Siniakova in her rain-delayed quarter-final that took over 2 hours and 26 minutes spread over 2 days and across multiple rain stoppages.
The No 4 seed was down a set but recovered to win in three on resumption of play on Friday morning, 2-6 6-3 6-3, to reach her second straight semi-final in Strasbourg.
The Belarusian had to battle back from a set and a break down in both second and third sets, but by the conclusion had ridden out the sundry interruptions to the contest with aplomb and was displaying not only greater power, but superior adaptation and variety to the conditions than her opponent.
“It was a great battle,” said a relieved Sabalenka afterwards. “It was a tough one yesterday – I had a lot of opportunities and still I lost it.
“It was tough to sleep because of the score. I tried to think about different things – watch some movies, speak with my family – tried not to think about tennis otherwise I wouldn’t be able to compete today. I only tried to think about the match in the warmup [today]!”
There was little time for recovery as 21-year-old Elena Rybakina won through to a Tour-leading 5th WTA final of the season, beating Nao Hibino 6-3 6-4 in an hour and 16 minutes.
The Hobart champion claimed 21 victories in January and February before the coronavirus outbreak, regaining that form slowly and playing at a high level against the Japanese to move into the 7th WTA final of her career.
Dominating Hibino, Rybakina dropped 18 points in 10 service games and fended off all 3 break chances, and while the Japanese did her best to stay in touch, she suffered one break in each set to end her journey in the semis.
Svitolina gets past Sabalenka
Svitolina, the No 2 seed, claimed her spot in the final with a hard-fought 6-2 4-6 6-4 win over No 4 seed Sabalenka in the second semi final of the day.
“Winning titles is something that you always want to do when you enter the tournament,” Svitolina told the press, after her win. “Every final is special, and you try to give everything that you have to have that trophy.”
After a brief rain interruption at the outset, Svitolina got past the Belarusian after a tense hour and 54-minute battle.
Svitolina suffered 4 breaks and delivered 6 from 10 chances, securing 3 of those in the decider to cross the finish line first.
She had the upper hand in the opener, stealing Sabalenka’s serve in games 2, 6 and 8 for 6-2.
Sabalenka held the advantage in the second, serving well and earning a break in the 7th game following a massive forehand error from Svitolina.
The Belarusian held to seal the set, hoping for more of the same in the decider and while she remained in touch until 3-3, Svitolina grabbed 2 breaks to move her over to the finish.
Svitolina won 73 percent of points when she got her first serve into play, and converted 6 of her 10 break points in the encounter.
“[Sabalenka] was taking more risks, because when you are a set down, you are looking for some ways to try to win,” said Svitolina. “She played great in the game she broke me.
“I knew that I had to fight, maybe play a little bit deeper, to try to be aggressive, and I think that worked well in the third set when I got the lead,” the No.2 seed added.
The victory puts the Ukrainian a single win away from her second title of the year, having triumphed in Monterrey just prior to the tennis calendar’s hiatus.
“Each match, I’m playing better and better,” said Svitolina. “I played some good matches against top players, in Rome as well. I have the final tomorrow, so it’s important for me to take every match and move forward from there.”
Sabalenka, the World No 12, fired 39 winners in the match, well outpacing her opponent’s 17, but she was undone by a matching total of 39 unforced errors, and 9 double-faults.
“I think it was just fighting spirit in the end,” said Svitolina. “I was just trying to be really strong, and I got a few unforced errors from Aryna, and I think I was fighting until the end, even at 0-40 down.”
Rybakina and Svitolina face off for the first time in Saturday’s final, with World No 18 Rybakina leading the WTA in match-wins this season, with 28, but Svitolina building a sterling 14-3 win-loss record in WTA singles finals during her illustrious career.
“I’m looking forward to the final,” Svitolina stated. “Every final is special to me, and I have just excitement, I would say.”