Dubai WTA: Elina Svitolina wins first Premier, joins top 10 with win over Caroline Wozniacki
World number 13 Elina Svitolina beat Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets to win the Dubai Championships
Elina Svitolina may not have leapt off the page as a likely Dubai Duty Free champion when the draw of 56 women was made a little over a week ago.
After all, the 22-year-old Ukrainian woman was ranked No13 and all her titles thus far had come from International events. Premiers were a step up, especially at the Premier 5 level now played in Dubai.
However, Svitolina was becoming a force to be reckoned with. Her ranking had been on an upward trajectory each year and she was already guaranteed to be No11 by the tournament’s end—into the top 10 should she win.
Already in 2017, she was showing fine form, winning in Taipei and making the semis in Brisbane, where she scored a big win over Angelique Kerber. As if to prove this was no flash in the pan, she beat Dubai’s top seed Kerber again in the semis—her third win over the German—and last summer, at the Rio Olympics, she beat Serena Williams.
Altogether Svitolina has scored 11 wins over top-10 opponents, and if that was not worry enough for fellow finalist and former Dubai champion Caroline Wozniacki, the Ukrainian had won her only previous match against the Dane, last March in Miami, though it was a very close affair, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6.
However, former world No1 Wozniacki, after a tough year of dipping form, an ankle injury, and a rank of 74 before she reached the semis at the US Open, was on the comeback trail via titles in Tokyo and Hong Kong and had a 15-4 tally so far this season. She made the final in Doha last weekend—a gruelling achievement through repeated rain delays with backed-up matches and little recovery time—but here she was, with upper leg strapped, into another final. And along the way, she became the most prolific match-winning woman in the tournament’s history: 22 and counting.
However, talking of rain, the weather began to take centre stage in Dubai as well, with the semis disrupted by a few intermittent spots, and by Saturday, the rain became persistent. The doubles final, scheduled to begin at 5pm, had been on and off court four times by 8pm. Meanwhile, Wozniacki and Svitolina could only twiddle their thumbs and hope to get their match done before the night’s end.
The match eventually got under way at 9pm in front of a substantial and resilient crowd. And it was all square, though tight, through the first four games. Then Svitolina upped her aggression and went after the Wozniacki serve. First a lovely cross-court backhand pass then a winner up the line and she had the first breakthrough. A love hold, with Wozniacki unable to get a handle on the Ukrainian’s serve, and it was 4-2.
Wozniacki continued to struggle in the seventh game, facing four deuces and another break point, but she survived. However, some vicious returning and another slotted backhand winner gave Svitolina two break—and set—points. However she would have to wait.
A first Danish ace saved one and Wozniacki relied on her go-to baseline game, hitting from corner to corner, to come through numerous deuces. In truth, she was breathing heavily but she dug in. Could she break back, though? Well, it looked likely, as Svitolina wavered and a double fault brought up 0-40. But the Ukrainian hit back hard, lifted a lob that Wozniacki obligingly put into the net, and drew one more error to hold, 6-4, after almost an hour.
A weary Wozniacki double faulted to concede an opening break in the second set, but a nervy Svitolina made a string of errors to hand it straight back to love.
The Ukrainian quickly regrouped, and began again to puncture holes in the Wozniacki’s baseline, in particular with her deceptive changes of direction on the backhand. She broke again, 3-2, and once more for 5-2.
Appropriately it was a winning backhand into the corner that won the match, 6-2, for the young Svitolina’s first Premier title. It was all the more pleasing, she said afterwards, because the woman who has been her coaching consultant since last year, Justine Henin, won here four times, and had messaged her after yesterday’s win.
Svitolina could not stop smiling, the serious on-court demeanour evaporated into bubbling pleasure. She is, she grinned, now in the top 10 and that had added to the pressure:
“I knew that if I gonna win this match, I’m gonna be top 10. There was extra pressure. When I was warming up, they added even more pressure because they announced it. It didn’t help!”
She is now on a 12-match winning streak, and don’t be surprised if that grows in Indian Wells: Svitolina’s star is most definitely on the rise.