WTA Finals: Defending champion Elina Svitolina off to perfect start
Elina Svitolina celebrates her win | Photo: Clive Brunskill

Defending champion Elina Svitolina came into the year-ending WTA Finals being the only player in the draw without reaching a final or winning a title this year. It was an up-and-down season for the Ukrainian, who reached two Major semifinals but was plagued by a knee injury throughout the entire year.

Winning the biggest title of her career in Singapore at this point last year, Svitolina has yet to find herself on the podium since then. She will look to replicate her success in Shenzhen this year, and got off to a fantastic start when she stunned second seed Karolina Pliskova in her opening round-robin match.

Coming into the tournament unheralded again, can Svitolina repeat her heroics? She put up a fantastic performance against Pliskova on Monday evening, clinching her fourth consecutive win over the Czech.

Pliskova and Svitolina meet at the net after the match | Photo: Clive Brunskill
Pliskova and Svitolina meet at the net after the match | Photo: Clive Brunskill

For Pliskova, it may not have been the start that she was looking for, but the beauty of a round-robin format makes it such that no player is out of the tournament even after a loss. With Bianca Andreescu coming up on Wednesday night, she will look to exact revenge for her Toronto loss.

Svitolina triumphed with a 7-6, 6-4 scoreline with the first set featuring the longest tiebreak in the tournament's history at 14-12, going the defending champion's way. Pliskova lost the momentum from there and had she converted her set point, things could have gone differently.

A clean match for Svitolina's standards, but not so for Pliskova. Her groundstrokes were working well early in the match but she lost control as the match progressed, ending with 42 unforced errors to 37 winners. Svitolina kept the statistical board clean with her controlled aggression and solid baseline play, firing 21 winners to just 16 unforced errors.

Elina Svitolina will next face Simona Halep | Photo: Clive Brunskill
Elina Svitolina will next face Simona Halep | Photo: Clive Brunskill

Svitolina overcomes the early deficit to steal the opening set

It was a titanic opening set which featured countless good rallies. Pliskova elected to receive, which proved to be a smart decision as she claimed the opening break within a blink of an eye. Svitolina looked overpowered early on but soon found her range as she broke straight back in the fourth game.

From there, the servers dominated play and the match was brought into a tiebreak to decide the winner. Pliskova's tennis started to show some inconsistency and errors were flooding her game, with Svitolina taking full advantage.

Karolina Pliskova in action | Photo: Clive Brunskill
Karolina Pliskova in action | Photo: Clive Brunskill

Set points came and went for the Ukrainian but it was during such crucial moments when Pliskova swung freely and produced some of her best tennis. A total of seven set points were saved, but Svitolina saved one with some smart hands at the net as well.

The set was finally decided with Pliskova sending a lunging backhand wide, allowing Svitolina to take the tiebreak 14-12 alongside the opening set after more than an hour of action.

Svitolina seals the huge win

As the match progressed, Svitolina grew in confidence and dared to take more risks as recommended by her coach Andrew Bettles. She claimed the break in the opening game of the second set which set her up for a straight-sets victory.

Elina Svitolina reaching for a ball | Photo: Clive Brunskill
Elina Svitolina reaching for a ball | Photo: Clive Brunskill

However, Pliskova had other ideas as she smacked consecutive forehand winners to break back, roaring straight back into contention. Svitolina's spirit did not break, though, as she continued the tradition of breaking serve by reclaiming the advantage soon.

Serving for the match, Svitolina found herself in huge danger as she faced two break points after a couple of poor, costly errors. Solid and pinpoint serving from the eighth seed rescued her from the brink, allowing her to seal the confidence-boosting 7-6, 6-4 win after an hour and 53 minutes of action.

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