Defending champion Elina Svitolina may not have won a title or even reached a final this year, but the Ukrainian seems to be posing a legitimate challenge for the WTA Finals title once again, with the slower indoor courts at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre suiting her game well. The eighth seed was clinical in her opening two matches and became the first player to be in the singles semifinals with consecutive straight-sets wins.
Svitolina defeated rival Simona Halep, 7-5, 6-3, in their second round-robin match, having lost to the Romanian in two previous meetings this year. The fifth seed was extremely erratic throughout the match, and her qualification chances now lie on herself as she faces Karolina Pliskova next in a winner-takes-all battle on Friday.
It was a good performance from Svitolina, who earned 76 per cent of her first-serve points and winning nearly half of all her return points in the match. Defending excellently and showcasing great footwork, she blasted 19 winners to just 25 unforced errors. Halep would rue all her errors, with 38 unforced errors in the one-hour, 40-minute loss, despite finding 21 winners along the way.
Svitolina survives the opening set
An uncharacteristically slow start from Halep saw her hitting seven unforced errors in just three games, allowing Svitolina to claim the confidence-boosting start and surge out to an early 3-0 lead within a blink of an eye. Nonetheless, the Romanian soon managed to find her range and control her power, using angles and her variety to outlast her opponent in baseline rallies.
Three straight games followed, but this time all went the way of the world number five as she threatened to grab the lead by earning a break point in the seventh game. Another lengthy rally followed, but Halep was unable to hit pass Svitolina and ultimately netted a forehand.
However, it was Svitolina’s turn to miss her chances as Halep impressively saved two break points in the following game, remaining composed even during the most crucial moments. While serving to stay in the set at 5-6 down, Halep rushed through the points and her routine, having troubles finding a ball in the court as she was broken to concede the opening frame 5-7.
Svitolina claims the huge win
Halep came out of the blocks firing in the second set, pouncing on Svitolina’s vulnerable second serves to draw the first blood. However, she was unable to consolidate her advantage as Svitolina produced some fantastic defence to frustrate her, forcing her into yet another unforced error as the Ukrainian saved multiple game points to return level.
Calling coach Darren Cahill down for a chat, he encouraged Halep to continue being aggressive amidst her errors. Svitolina once again benefitted from an error-filled game from the Romanian, breaking to love and earning the golden opportunity to serve out the match.
For the second match in a row, Svitolina was forced to retrieve from a 15-40 deficit to successfully serve out the match, firing several good serves consecutively. She will next face Bianca Andreescu, who is not yet confirmed to compete after a scary knee injury, with her semifinal spot already booked.