Ukrainian number one Elina Svitolina recorded the biggest victory of her young career at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, dethroning world number one and reigning Olympic champion Serena Williams, 6-4, 6-3, to reach the quarterfinals of the Olympic tennis event and ending Williams’ bid for back-to-back gold medals in singles.
Svitolina Surprises in Opener
Having just taken one set off Williams in four previous meetings, it came as no surprise that Svitolina was the overwhelming underdog coming into one of the biggest matches of her career. But the Ukrainian, who has shown significant improvements in the last twelve months with her swift ascent into the top 15, has been known for not reading the script beforehand, delivered all sorts of surprises in the opener.
After trading holds with the world number one for the first six games of the match, the Ukrainian was finally able to make the decisive breakthrough in the seventh game, biding her time before a pair of uncharacteristic unforced errors from Williams handed her the break. From there, the rising star continued to capitalize on Williams’ inconsistencies as she consolidated to build a steady 5-3 lead.
And when the time came for her to serve out the set on her own terms, Svitolina didn’t falter; an ace out wide on the Ukrainian’s first set point enough to cap off a stunning, yet somewhat surprising set of tennis, 6-4.
Struggling Serena out of Sorts as Svitolina Sprints Toward the Finish Line
The second set started much like the latter stages of the first with a struggling Serena, who appeared to have aggravated a right shoulder injury that kept her out of the Rogers Cup just a week prior, unable to consistently find holes in the Svitolina defence.
The Ukrainian would jump out to an early lead in the second to go a set and a break to the good before Williams came roaring back in classic “Serena” style to draw level at three-games-apiece. But an uncharacteristic service game from the world number one, one that included five(!) double faults from the American, handed the advantage right back to Svitolina.
In a case of déjà-vu, the Ukrainian further consolidated to build a commanding set and 5-3 lead and this time, she didn’t even need to serve it out; another poor service game from Williams allowing Svitolina to break for a fourth and final time to complete the monumental upset in an hour and 13 minutes.
“The feeling is unreal, and I still can’t believe this match ended with a win for me,” the 21-year-old said after the match.
“I was trying to be focused because she’s a great player with great experience coming back in many amazing matches. In the end, it was just point by point.”
The Magnitude of Svitolina’s Victory
In addition to reaching the last eight of the Olympics in her début, Svitolina also ended Williams’ quest for back-to-back gold medals, a huge feat considering the then-world number one was seeking her fifth Olympic crown, but just her second in singles.
Given her history against Williams coming in and the world number one’s stellar record in Olympic competition, this was certainly a victory of massive proportions for Svitolina, and one that will certainly not be forgotten in the years to come.