Elina Svitolina, the second seed, shook off a spirited challenge from Magda Linette in her opening match at the Internationaux de Strasbourg, while No 5 seed Elena Rybakina fended off a second-set comeback by former champion Alizé Cornet to clinch a straight-set victory.
It's not easy to come from another tournament with different balls, different conditions. I was trying just to fight and in the end I was lucky I finished in two sets. Elina Svitolina
Svitolina faced a set point in the second set before quelling Linette’s challenge in the tiebreak, eking out a tight opener and coming from a double break down in the second before progressing to the quarter-finals, 7-6(0) 7-5, after an hour and 58 minutes.
The Ukrainian struggled with both a surging opponent and her own fluctuating level and was two points away from losing the first set before facing set point as Linette served for the second, but each time Svitolina found some of her sharpest tennis to deny the Polish No 1 at the business end of both sets.
“It definitely was not easy,” said Svitolina afterwards. “She was fighting back, she was trying to produce a good level; I was up and down.
“It’s not easy to come from another tournament with different balls, different conditions. I was trying just to fight and in the end I was lucky I finished in two sets.”
Svitolina was the sharper out of the blocks, constructing points smartly and executing efficiently to take a 3-1 lead with a finely crafted drop-shot-lob-forehand triple combination providing a particular early highlight.
Linette, ranked 36, battled her way slowly but surely back into the set, using her backhand to garneri a series of smoothly struck winners.
The 28-year-old also proved rock-solid in coming out on top of a number of lengthy tussles, and looked to be the stronger player, rattling off winner after winner and hitting her spots on serve with ease.
On the ropes serving at 5-6, 15-30, Svitolina raised her level, reasserting her authority off the ground and at net, to force the tiebreak, where she was razor-sharp as Linette fell away, coughing up 5 unforced errors and a 4th double-fault en route to an unfortunate whitewash as the No 2 seed reeled off the final 10 points of the set.
Linette shook off the disappointment, who capitalised on an error strewn service game from Svitolina and later conjured up a series of magnificent drop-shots to capture the double break for 4-1.
Svitolina’s tenacity, however, is her hallmark and she slowly began chipping away at Linette’s lead, hanging on through a series of tight games, and varying her strategy as she probed Linette’s weaknesses.
Serving for the set at 5-4, Linette squandered a set point by netting a forehand as the momentum finally shifted towards Svitolina, who wasted no time to hammer a forehand winner down the line to break back, and then stormed through the last two games to set up a quarter-final showdown against Jil Teichmann.
The unseeded Swiss came through a tight affair against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchekova, 7-6(3) 7-5.
Rybakina fights off Cornet
Fifth-seeded Elena Rybakina fought off France’s Alizé Cornet, the 2013 champion, 6-3 7-6(8) after an hour and 49-minutes.
“I was just focusing on every point, because it’s not the first time I’m actually up [in the score],” Rybakina told the press, after the match. “Last tournament in Rome, I was up, for example, and my concentration went down.
“I just knew that I had to focus on every point. It doesn’t matter, the score, just work every point and try to do my best.”
The Kazakh held match points at 5-3 and 5-4 in the second set before Cornet charged back to hold 3 set points of her own.
Rybakina clawed her way back from 2-5 down in the breaker to take the straight-set victory.
“[Cornet] played really good from 4-2,” said Rybakina. “She was defending every point, she was fighting until the end, so it was not easy, of course.”
The 21-year old improved her head-to-head record against Cornet, the World No 52, to 2-0.
In the quarters, Rybakina faces former Top 25 player Zhang Shuai of China, who saw off French teenager Clara Burel, 6-3 7-6)8).
“I have to think about the tactics, and focus on my serve,” said Rybakina, looking forward to the next round. “Today, in the beginning of the match, it was good, the serve, but then I dropped a bit, doing many double faults in the second set.
“So I’ll focus on serve, and we’ll see how it goes.”