Svitolina 5-0 In Clay Finals After Winning Strasbourg Title

WASHINGTON, September 26, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Elina Svitolina and Elena Rybakina, both Top 20 stars, met for the first time on a chilly, wet Saturday afternoon in northeastern France with the Internationaux de Strasbourg singles title riding on the outcome. They came out on the court two hour and one-quarter hours later than expected and both players were bundled up in long sleeves and leggings to combat the 10Cº conditions.

At the end of their one hour and 53-minute battle, with little margin for error, it was the second seed Svitolina who triumphed over Rybakina, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, to garner her second title of the year and 15th in her outstanding career. She’s now 5-0 in clay-court finals.

In this final pre-French Open tune-up, the World No. 5 Svitolina from Ukraine (now 15-6 in 2020) came in no stranger to playing in championship matches. Strasbourg represented her 18th career singles final, and with her latest victory, she’s now 15-3. One thing’s certain: Don’t bet against the 26-year-old Odessa native when it comes to finals on clay.

Svitolina’s latest title victory can be attributed in part to her consistency throughout the match. She won 72 percent of her first-serve points, saved eight of 10 break points and converted three of seven break-point chances against her worthy opponent. Svitolina’s all-court performance resulted in Rybakina committing 34 unforced errors. She outpointed Rybakina 93-87.

“It was not easy, but it’s the same for everyone anytime you have to adjust quickly,” Svitolina told Tennis TourTalk, commenting upon the delayed start of the final and the playing conditions on the Patrice Dominguez show court. “It was important for me to come out and play my game, and not think about it so much. It’s the final, you have only one more match. It was important to stay focused.”

Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Rybakina, seeded fifth, had much to think about. She had already won two WTA singles titles in her young career, and winning at Strasbourg would have been her third. She’s reached five finals this season. After lifting the trophy in Hobart back in January, she’s also been a finalist in Shenzhen, St. Petersburg and Dubai before this week. Rybakina won her only clay-court title last year in Bucharest. Additionally, Rybakina came into the Strasbourg final leading the WTA in victories with 28. Now, she’ll have to wait until Roland Garros to go after her 29th.

While Rybakina (28-9) came into the final without having dropped a set in any of her four Strasbourg matches – taken to a tie-break set just once – that changed after Svitolina won the opener that was set up with a break of the Kazakh’s serve in the fifth game. Also, Rybakina, who is No. 1 on tour in services aces, was able to only add one to her total and now has 188.

After Svitolina broke Rybakina to go ahead 3-2 at the start of the final, she consolidated it with a solid forehand winner that wrapped up a 14-point effort. Later, she won the 39-minute first set with a nifty backhand drop shot hit from the baseline that Rybakina was unable to get a racquet on. Svitolina proved solid in her service games – just a little bit sharper than Rybakina – and she showed an awareness of where she was on the court. She never seemed to lack in confidence or get too down on herself.

However, give some credit to Rybakina, who rebounded nicely in the second set and jumped out to a 3-0 lead by mixing up her game with a variety of solidly-constructed forehands and two-fisted backhanded returns. Later, she increased it to 5-1 by breaking her opponent’s serve after Svitolina double-faulted on game point. Rybakina consolidated the break and won the set to force a decider.

As the third set began, Rybakina immediately went to work and earned three break points in Svitolina’s first service game. However, the Ukrainian was up to the task and became more aggressive in hitting her returns. One by one, she saved each of the break points, but netted a doable return that gave Rybakina a fourth break-point chance. Immediately, Svitolina erased it with her first ace of the match and went on to hold her serve. It proved to be a major turning point during the match and a portends of things to come. That’s because Svitolina went on to lose only three points in the final four games of the match.

“It’ really gave me confidence to come back into the match,” Svitolina said. “The second set was a little bit one sided for her. It gave me hope and a better feel at the beginning of the third set.”

Indeed, Svitolina recovered and broke to go ahead 4-2, then consolidated the break with a hold at love by hitting her second ace for a 5-2 advantage. Finally, Svitolina wasted no time in wrapping up her 15th career title with a third break of Rybakina’s serve to complete her title conquest.

“I rushed a bit in the third set,” said Rybakina, disappointed in the final outcome but still upbeat about her week in Strasbourg with an eye toward Roland Garros next week. “I lost a few games very quickly. I can serve a little better and make some better decisions.”

At the end of her virtual press conference, a tired but happy Svitolina was asked by Tennis TourTalk what she learned about herself from winning a title under less than ideal conditions. She said, “I think fighting back. In the second set, the conditions became colder. It was important to push myself to get back into the match. This was a really positive step for me. Often, I get down on myself and lose fight. The way that I handled the pressure [today] was important to me.”

Top seeds Melichar/Schuurs win doubles title

No. 1 seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Demi Schuurs from the Netherlands defeated No. 4 seeds Hayley Carter from the United States and Luisa Stefani of Brazil, 6-4, 6-3, to win the Strasbourg doubles title. The match was moved from the main Patrice Dominguez show court to Court 2 to ensure its completion due to inclement weather.

Melichar and Schuurs paired in Rome last week for the first time and lost in the first round. Now, in Strasbourg, they won a title together without losing a set in four matches. What a difference a week makes.

Winning Strasbourg was Melichar’s eighth career WTA doubles titles. She was a US Open finalist two weeks ago with Xu Yifan. Schuurs now has 12 crowns to her credit, including last month’s Western & Southern Open, won with Kveta Peschke.

“We are really happy with this win,” Schuurs said. “It’s the second time we’ve played together. We had a tough week in Rome, but we practiced together, and played some good matches in Strasbourg.”

Carter and Stefani have been a team for the past year and won two titles, last year at Tashkent and last month in Lexington, Ky. This month, they’ve been a US Open quarterfinalist and last week advanced to the semifinals in Rome before reaching this week’s final in Strasbourg.

“We had a good feeling about our games [this week],” Melichar said.

“Of course, you’re always happy with a title, especially now,” Schuurs said. “We go to Paris with a good feeling.”