Labeled by the WTA as the “Match of the Year”, the quarterfinal clash at the China Open between Elina Svitolina and Caroline Garcia was a thriller lasting an incredible three-hours, 22-minutes. Certainly, it lived up to its tag as one of the best encounters in 2017 as the Frenchwoman prevailed in a clash of contrasting playing styles — and she even had to save a match point in the process.
Svitolina seals titanic first set
The opening game of the match was already a thriller with Svitolina having to fend off Garcia’s merciless offense straight from the first point onwards. However, the underdog was just too good and fired on all cylinders, blasting four winners in just one game to claim the first break of serve. Garcia’s powerful serves helped her to consolidate the break, serving an ace on game point.
However, Svitolina started to slowly find her groove and it ultimately reflected in the results as she produced consecutive backhand winners to break back to love, performing well with her controlled aggression. The set then went on serve till the tenth game, when Garcia faced the pressure of serving to stay in the set. Conceding two set points, most would have thought that the Frenchwoman would crumble mentally but her triumph in Wuhan certainly boosted her confidence and toughened up her mentality. She controlled her nerves well, prevailing in the lengthy 10-minute game.
An exchange of breaks followed, with Garcia’s baseline game collapsing while attempting to serve out the set, ensuring that a tiebreak would decide the winner of the first set. She continued to be wasteful on her chances, failing to convert a 5-3 lead as Svitolina went all out on the crucial points, clinching four consecutive points to steal the first set after an hour and 11 minutes of play. Garcia would definitely rue the drive volley error at 5-5 in the tiebreak, with her nerves clearly being reflected in that miss.
Topsy-turvy second set sees Garcia produce an incredible comeback
Similar to the first set, Garcia had the perfect start to the second set as she claimed eight of the first nine points to jump out to an early 2-0 lead. Despite looking fired-up and having the rhythm in her game, Garcia wasted a couple of game points in the third game only to see Svitolina come out of nowhere to return level on serve. The third seed regained her composure and soon triumphed in another marathon game, this time rattling off three straight games to lead by a set and a break.
With the finishing line in sight, Svitolina suffered a slight misfocus and started missing everything possible, allowing Garcia to remain in contention. After a series of breaks, it was the Ukrainian who had the golden opportunity to regain the lead as she earned triple break points in the ninth game — had she converted, she would serve for the match.
However, Svitolina got too overly-passive on the crucial points, with Garcia’s powerful serves saving her from the brink. Serving to stay in the set at 5-6 down, Svitolina was unable to fend off Garcia’s fearless hitting and the Frenchwoman eventually blasted a forehand return winner to seal the second set 7-5.
Breaks galore as Garcia saves a match point to grab the win
The story of the match could be summarized in a sentence: Svitolina finds a way to get the lead but Garcia pegs back ultimately. This could also be seen in the final set, where the third seed opened up a 3-1 lead — and even had a break point for a double-break advantage — but eventually gets pegged back by the Frenchwoman as Svitolina faltered on the crucial points.
Seven consecutive breaks weren’t enough to prevent a final-set tiebreak, with Svitolina twice failing to serve the match out. She would rue her missed opportunities, but once again had the perfect chance to claim the tough win in the tiebreak. An exchange of mini-breaks started the winner-takes-all tiebreak before it went on serve continuously till Svitolina earned her first match point at 6-5. With nothing to lose, Garcia went for an incredible backhand down-the-line winner before finally sealing the perfect comeback victory with another forehand return winner, the exact same fashion as how she took the second set.
Stats Corner: Garcia narrowly sneaks through a tough opponent
Both players performed poorly on their serves throughout the encounter, as seen by the numbers. There were an incredible 19 breaks of serve in the 202-minute encounter while Svitolina won just 53 percent of her first serve points while Garcia had 59 percent of those points in her bag. She performed slightly better on her second deliveries as compared to Garcia, claiming 39 percent behind her vulnerable second serves as compared to 34 for the Frenchwoman.
37 break point opportunities surfaced, with both players giving it their all throughout the affair. It was an exciting match, but it was also an error-stricken encounter. Garcia and Svitolina combined for 91 winners which came with a heavy price of 109 unforced errors. This match was also one of the longest matches in their respective careers.
Aftermath: Match proves to be crucial for both players
This loss ended Svitolina’s chances of taking over the top spot in the rankings as she needed to win the title to do so. The Ukrainian had the golden opportunity to become the new number one at the WTA Finals, but she failed to take her chances as she exited in the group stage, and eventually ended the year as the sixth-ranked player.
Having saved a match point, Garcia went on to claim her second title in as many weeks, defeating the top-ranked Simona Halep in the final as she cracked the top-10 for the first time in her career while booking her spot at the WTA Finals in the process. Had Svitolina converted the match point, things would definitely turn out much differently.