Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina made history by winning the first ever tennis medal for her country on Saturday when the World No 6 prevailed over Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina, 1-6 7-6(5) 6-4, after a battle royal that took 2 hours 28 minutes to resolve and left her winning Bronze.
It was a tough match. I again missed many opportunities. I gave everything I could. I still think it's a good week for me, good matches, and I will keep on going. I was up many moments, and it's not easy," she added, "She [Svitolina] was fighting too. She wanted to win so bad. Every point was tough. Elena Rybakina
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be fair. Coming here my goal was to win a gold medal,” said Svitolina.
“It was extremely tough to lose in the semi-final and then to try to regroup and come again against a top player, who is playing really good.
“To win such a big battle for the bronze, it means the world for me. Everyone in Ukraine is watching, we don’t win so many medals, it’s very special for me and Ukraine.”
Effectively dismantled in the first set, Svitolina won just 19 points as Rybakina put one step on the podium, and the Kazakh continued her form into the second by racing out to a 3-1 lead before the Ukrainian fought back to force a decider after winning a tightly-contested tie-break.
In the final set, Svitolina trailed yet again as Rybakina stormed into a 4-1 lead, but 2 consecutive breaks by the 26-year-old saw her clinch Bronze on her 7th match point.
The No 4 seed did it the hard way, bringing her total time on court at Tokyo 2020 to almost 14-and-a-half hours.
She is nothing if not a fighter, refusing to capitulate and battling through 4 of her 5 matches in 3 tight sets.
Svitolina lost to Marketa Vondrousova in the semi-final match on Thursday, while Rybakina, currently ranked World No 20, dropped her semi-final to Belinda Bencic, who compete for Gold later on Saturday.
Playing in her second Olympics, Svitolina’s trademark grit and determination was the story of her Bronze medal run.
Against Rybakina, who breezed through the tournament without losing a set before the semi-finals, Svitolina chipped away for nearly two-and-a-half hours, which was still just the third-longest match she played this week.
In the first set, Svitolina managed to win just 5 points across her 3 service games as Rybakina effectively overwhelmed her after fending off Svitolina in a 10-minute game to hold to 2-1, pocketing the opener in 28 minutes.
After falling behind an early break in the second, Svitolina dug in and dialled up her intensity and aggression to push Rybakina to a tiebreak.
The turning point came at 5-5 in the breaker, as Rybakina crafted a perfect baseline point to earn a standard forehand volley at the net that would have given her a match point, but she pushed it wide to give Svitolina set point, and then mistimed a forehand return to hand the Ukrainian the set.
Rybakina overcame a double-fault at 30-all to save break point and hold her serve at the start of the decider, only for Svitolina to deliver a double-fault of her own and face down break point, striking a tentative forehand that landed short, which the Kazakh smacked away for a winner to go up 2-0.
Again, Svitolina refused to buckle, keeping the return pressure on Rybakina before finally breaking her for just the second time in the match to get back on serve at 3-4.
With Rybakina reeling, Svitolina pounced, breaking serve for a 3rd time to earn a chance to serve for the match.
With the weight of Olympic history for Ukraine on her shoulders, Svitolina finally converted on her 7th match point in the final game to seal one of the biggest comebacks of her storied career, adding Olympic Bronze to a resume that already includes 15 WTA titles, including the 2019 WTA Finals.
“It was a tough match,” said Rybakina. “I again missed many opportunities. I gave everything I could.
“I still think it’s a good week for me, good matches, and I will keep on going.
“I was up many moments, and it’s not easy,” she added, “She [Svitolina] was fighting too. She wanted to win so bad. Every point was tough.”
Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic and Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova will play for the gold medal later on Saturday.
Earlier, Laura Pigossi & Luisa Stefani saved 4 match points to defeat Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova & Elena Vesnina for bronze in doubles and give Brazil its first Olympic tennis medal.
Ash Barty & John Peers took bronze in mixed doubles after Serbia’s Novak Djokovic & Nina Stojanovic withdrew due to injury.