It had been a far from a flawless performance from Elina Svitolina, but it had been enough to defeat an equally struggling Karolina Pliskova to reach the final at Brisbane International. For the Ukrainian, it is the first at the tournament; in 2017, she had come close to it, but she lost in the semifinal, also against Pliskova.
One year later, the roles reversed. Pliskova started as the favorite - she had won five of their six previous encounters, only losing the last one, last year in Rome. Despite a very positive start, she couldn't hold the momentum and couldn't be decisive with her serve as she usually is, ending up suffering Svitolina's pressure and making too many mistakes.
Today's win will grant Svitolina the 4th seed at the Australian Open, getting ahead Venus Williams, while Pliskova will settle for the 6th seed.
Svitolina overcomes a slow start, eventually claims the lead
As the first set started, it seemed that Pliskova were in total control of the match. The defending champion, as in her opening match against Catherine Bellis, quickly claimed the lead and, helped by a disastrous start from Svitolina, who couldn't keep a ball in, comfortably clinched a 4-0 advantage.
In the fifth game, Svitolina seemed to react. With some powerful, deep returns, she broke Pliskova to love and got back into the game. She then held her serve for the first time to reduce the gap.
In the following game, a huge error from the net cost Pliskova a break point. She saved it with an ace, but a weak volley favored Svitolina's forehand winner. Pliskova's drop shot was again too weak, and the Ukrainian hit another passing shot to take the second break back. Another good game on serve and the world number 6 closed the gap, settling the score to 4-4.
Pliskova managed to interrupt the losing streak, and eased by some errors from her opponent, she held to love to keep the lead. Fallen 0-30 down, and unable to keep her first serve in, Svitolina didn't lose focus, and in the end, she pulled herself out of what could've become a tricky game, and held with a forehand winner.
Pliskova regained control of her serve and went 40-15 up, but two ill-timed forehand errors brought the game to deuce. A third forehand error definitively cost her the game and gifted Svitolina a chance to serve out the set. Holding to love, the Ukrainian didn't waste time and closed the first set with a 7-5 scoreline.
A poor performance on serve from the Czech - compared to what she usually shows - had made tricky for her to overcome an opponent who suddenly wasn't making as many errors as she was at the start of the set. Quite interestingly, Svitolina showed a better performance on serve, while Pliskova, with 53 percent of first serves in, could win only 58 percent of points with her usually decisive first serve.
Overcoming a late struggle, Svitolina wins the match in straight sets
After the break, Pliskova seemed ready for a fresh start and held to 15 to open the second set. Equally solid, her opponent held as well for a 1-1 score.
In the following game, Pliskova couldn't convert four chances to hold, suffering a solid return game from her opponent, and hitting too many errors on crucial points. On the first break point, a backhand error closed the game and gave away the lead to Svitolina. The Ukrainian didn't waste it, and held to consolidate the score.
It followed another complicated game from Pliskova, who needed to rally back from 0-30 to eventually hold and stay on track. Her opponent, however, kept serving well and didn't give Pliskova any chances to get the break back.
The Czech found herself in trouble again. Suffering the pressure during the rallies, she struggled to close points and gave her opponent one more chance to break; the Ukrainian immediately converted it with a return winner and went on to serve for the match, which resulted in a very poor game from her. Pliskova took advantage of it, and immediately claimed one of the breaks back.
On her serve, however, Pliskova continued to struggle to counter Svitolina's solid returns; she dropped a match point but comfortably saved it with a powerful first serve. Eventually, the Czech held with two aces, not before wasting many chances herself.
Serving for the match for the second time, Svitolina seemed to completely lose her focus again, and, from 15-30 down, she hit a double fault to give Pliskova two more chances to break. She saved both, but two errors in a row eventually cost her the game and allowed the Czech to level-up the score to 5-5.
Refusing to give up, Svitolina put pressure again on Pliskova's serve, and a very unfortunate double-fault on the second break point wasted all the Czech's previous efforts, and Svitolina could serve out the match one more time.
In a very difficult game, Svitolina failed to convert two more match points, but an error from Pliskova signed the end of the match, and with a double 7-5 the Ukrainian eventually claimed the victory.
Elina Svitolina will need to contend the final with Aliaksandra Sasnovich. The Belarussian had already left quite a mark in the competition, making her way from the qualifying round and defeating 7th seed Anastasija Sevastova in the semifinals, and she will obviously be very motivated to clinch the biggest title of her career.