One Flawless Week In Singapore, One Big Title For Svitolina

WASHINGTON, October 29, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Elina Svitolina beat Sloane Stephens in a battle of undefeateds, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, to win the 2018 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global for the biggest title of her career on Sunday. It was a stunning comeback by the Ukrainian against the fifth-seeded American, and it was the seventh time this year that the sixth-seeded Svitolina had rallied to win after losing the first set.

It capped a perfect end to a perfect week for Svitolina.

Svitolina, 24, won all five of her singles matches at this year’s Finals and extended her career record at the year-ending championship to an impressive 13-2. She evened her career head-to-head record against the 25-year-old Stephens to 2-2 (including 1-1 this season).

Sunday’s final was filled with many exciting rallies and pitted Svitolina’s desire against Stephens’ athleticism. However, by the end of the championship match, Stephens didn’t have an answer for Svitolina.

“I had to stay very solid,” said Svitolina during her post-match press conference. “I just told myself I’m not gonna step back, and just gonna fight for every ball, not going to give any opportunity to her and just gonna be very, very tough. I think this is what willed me to do it today.”

At the conclusion of the two hour and 23 minute final, which came at the conclusion of the long and meandering 10-month WTA season, it was Svitolina who was the fresher player. With match point secured, Svitolina collapsed to the court in a momentary celebration of joy and victory – not out of exhaustion. Then, after receiving congratulations at the net from Stephens, she stood alone on the court receiving the well-deserved plaudits from the crowd while blowing heartfelt kisses back toward them.

“Today, not everything worked in the first set,” said Svitolina, “but I fought back and that’s what brought me to the win today. I’m very proud of this.”

Svitolina’s incredible road to lifting the biggest trophy of her career started impressively with a straight-set victory over Petra Kvitova (her first after seven straight losses) and continued with impressive pool play wins over semifinalist Karolina Pliskova and defending champion Caroline Wozniacki in the White Group. On Saturday, she beat Kiki Bertens in the semifinals, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-4.

Not only did Svitolina become the first Ukrainian to reach the WTA Finals – and win it – she’s also the first player since Serena Williams in 2013 to win the WTA Finals undefeated.

Against Stephens, Svitolina placed 64 percent of her first serves in play and won 35 of 54 (65 percent) of her first-serve points. She saved nine of the 12 break points that she faced during her 12 service games. Defensively, Svitolina won 48 percent of her return-point opportunities, including nine more return points than Stephens. Stephens only won 53 percent (37 of 70) of her first-serve points and her serve was broken by Svitolina six times in 12 tries, including three times in the final set. Svitolina outpointed the 2017 U.S. Open champion 95-87.

“Stephens is a great player,” said Svitolina. “She was striking the ball really good. I didn’t really have any answers in the first set, because she was playing great tennis.”

By winning the WTA Finals, Svitolina has now won nine titles over the past two seasons – most on the WTA Tour – and she’s won her last nine finals. With a solid 44-15 win-loss record to show for the year, she will finish the 2018 season ranked No. 4, the best finish of her career.

“Of course I know that I won lots of finals,” said Svitolina, “but for me every final is a big challenge.” Earlier, she had said, “For me, going into this tournament was very important mentally to bounce back. You know, I had a really, really tough second part of the season.”

Indeed, after a series of early-season title wins at Brisbane, Dubai and Rome, where she routed World No. 1 Simona Halep in the final, she bowed early during the last three Grand Slams and reached just one semifinal. She parted ways with her coach, Thierry Ascione, too.

However, Svitolina rebounded very nicely this week in Singapore and played focused and determined tennis.

“Elina Svitolina should be proud,” tweeted British tennis journalist Abigail Johnson. “Constantly under the radar. Never a media favorite. Knocked back time and again at majors.”

With Svitolina’s victory, it meant that for only the third time since 1972 – the debut of the year-end WTA championship – that a different woman had won the five biggest titles (Grand Slams plus WTA Finals). Looking back on 2018, Wozniacki won the Australian Open, Halep captured Roland Garros, Angelique Kerber lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish at Wimbledon, Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams for the U.S. Open crown, and Svitolina amazed many by winning the WTA Finals.

Following the championship match, Courtney Nguyen, a senior writer for the WTA Tour website, tweeted, “I really do think we’re going to look back on the 2018 WTA season as the year these incredible women set the table for the future of the tour. It’s a bright one.”

Babos and Mladenovic win WTA Finals doubles title

Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France, friends off the court for the past decade, bookended their successful 2018 season by winning the WTA Finals doubles title after lifting the Australian Open trophy in January.

On Sunday, Babos, who won the WTA Finals last year with Andrea Sestini Hlavackova of the Czech Republic, reunited with Mladenovic. The No. 2 seeds beat the top-seeded team of Barbara Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic, 6-4, 7-5, in one hour and 24 minutes.

“We spend a lot of time together not only in our job but off the court, as well,” Babos was quoted by the WTA Tour website as saying. “Every time we have tougher moments, we just come back stronger.”

Mladenovic added, “I think each other’s weapons are a perfect match for the doubles game, and our communication is good. Doubles is going so fast that sometimes you don’t really have time to call the balls and to communicate, and I feel like we feel each other’s mindset. It’s pretty fun to try to associate both our games.”