Sofia Kenin’s debut at the WTA Finals may have come earlier than expected, but she put up an extremely tough fight against the eighth seed and defending champion Elina Svitolina, who was absolutely on fire this week at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre. Coming into the tournament as the second alternate, the American’s hopes of getting onto the court were meagre but with the toil of the court on the players, it has managed to pave a way for the world number 12 to take the biggest stage of women’s tennis.
Kenin’s cameo appearance ensured that the fans were treated to a thriller on Friday evening, handing Svitolina a very tough test in a two-hours, 10-minutes battle which ended up 7-5, 7-6 in the Ukrainian’s favour. Having already been confirmed as the group winner before the start of the day, Svitolina continued to give it her all and emerged out of her group unbeaten and not losing a set in the process.
10 double-faults were costly for Kenin as she had probably not adjusted herself to the conditions on Centre Court, with her aggressive game backfiring on many occasions. Despite hitting 37 winners, the 20-year-old also committed 45 unforced errors, giving her opponent many crucial points in the process.
Svitolina had a fantastic serving day, blasting 11 well-placed aces and playing a rather clean match with 25 winners to just 28 unforced errors, winning 69 per cent of her first serves and more than half of her second serves. This sets her up for a meeting with Belinda Bencic in the semifinals, pursuing to reach her first final of the year in her last tournament of the season.
Svitolina produces a wonderful comeback in both sets to triumph
Kenin came out of the blocks firing, being the clear aggressor and grabbing the lead in the early stages of the match. She saved a 40-0 deficit in the third game before going on to break serve, consolidating the advantage for a two-game advantage. Svitolina found herself in huge danger as she was playing too passively and was unable to find any rhythm on her shots.
A lucky netcord saved Svitolina for the brink as she bravely fended off two break points to prevent a double-break deficit. Gaining confidence as each point progressed, Svitolina ultimately claimed consecutive games for the first time to return level on the scoreboard.
Kenin’s errors started to flood her game, particularly when she has the leads. Swinging more freely when having the upper hand, the American’s high-risk game was not efficient against the excellent defender Svitolina. She served for the set but was unable to pounce on her opportunities as nerves struck her, causing her to produce uncharacteristic errors.
It was four games on the trot for the defending champion as Kenin lost a 40-0 lead while serving to force a tiebreak, ultimately conceding the opening frame 5-7 after 48 minutes of action.
Svitolina survives the thriller
The second set was an absolute marathon, lasting for over 80 minutes of play. There was a complete shift in momentum as Kenin was unable to convert any of her four break points in the opening game, which will eventually turn out to be a costly miss.
After the topsy-turvy first set, the servers dominated the second set with no breaks in the opening eight games. Kenin had to save an important break opportunity with a clean backhand winner to prevent Svitolina from serving for the match.
When Svitolina finally showed some signs of frustration, Kenin took her chances and won the golden opportunity to serve for the set. However, for the second time in the evening, she could not consolidate and Svitolina was able to save a set point (with a Kenin double-fault) to remain in contention for a straight-sets win.
A nerveless drop shot saw Kenin saving match point to bring the set into a tiebreak, where Svitolina found herself trapped in another marathon after triumphing in a 14-12 tiebreak on Monday against Pliskova. The American youngsters saved a total of five match points, all in stunning fashion as she truly played without pressure on those points.
A stray forehand from Kenin into the net marked the conclusion of the match, and it was a fantastic effort from both players who knew that nothing was on the line today except ranking points and prize money, but they still gave it all and entertained the fans today.