Elina Svitolina powers her way past Simona Halep to reach semi-finals of Shiseido WTA Finals

The finals represent the Ukranian's last chance of winning a trophy in 2019 

Paul Newman
Shenzhen
Wednesday 30 October 2019 19:43
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Svitolina edged past Muchova
Svitolina edged past Muchova

The metronomically consistent Elina Svitolina and the flamboyantly unpredictable Gael Monfils might appear an unlikely pairing, but the 25-year-old Ukrainian produced a stunning shot straight out of her boyfriend’s book in beating Simona Halep 7-5, 6-3 in the Shiseido WTA Finals here on Wednesday.

Svitolina, who in recording her second successive straight-sets victory became the first player to secure her place in the semi-finals, was a set and 3-2 up when she thumped a sliced forehand drive which spun almost sideways off the court surface beyond the reach of Halep, who looked totally bemused by the shot.

“I think many people were surprised – even myself because I played it that well,” Svitolina said with a smile afterwards. “I actually played many more of these shots when I was growing up. I was doing lots of slicing. It was actually working a lot for me, but my coach at that time really hated that shot. But as you saw here, it brought me a point, a very important one, and surprised the opponent.You never know. It might help me in the future, too.”

Could she remember the last time she had played a shot like that? “Maybe in practice with Gael,” Svitolina said. “He does so much crazy stuff in practice.”

If the shot was out of character, Svitolina’s performances here have also bucked the general trend of her season. The Ukrainian, a permanent member of the world’s top 10 since May 2017, has been a prolific accumulator of titles in recent years, but for the first time since 2011 is in danger of finishing a season without a winner’s trophy to add to her collection. After winning a total of nine titles in 2017 and 2018, she has failed so far to reach any finals this year, having lost in five semi-finals and six quarter-finals.

This is therefore Svitolina’s last chance of winning a trophy in 2019 – and on the evidence so far it is one she is well capable of taking. The world No 8, who beat Karolina Pliskova in her opening match, is the defending champion and appears well suited by the slow court surface. Halep, who has been recovering from a back injury, complained during the match to Darren Cahill, her coach, that she was unable to hit any shots that troubled her opponent.

“This court is not great for me, for my game,” Halep said afterwards. “It’s very soft in a way, even if you go and hit hard. I think that I hit well today, but not enough directions on the court. That’s why I couldn’t finish points. I got frustrated a little bit because of that. I got tired because I haven’t trained much. But she played well. She didn’t miss. I think she loves to play here. It’s her style.”

Elina Svitolina is chasing her maiden trophy of 2019

She added: “We all are tired after a long year. We have to do extra work on the shots and the points on this surface. But we have what we have and that’s it.I’m not going to complain about that.”

Halep, who had won her opening match against Bianca Andreescu on Monday and can still qualify for the semi-finals, started slowly, recovered from 0-3 down to 3-3, but then let Svitolina back in at the end of the first set.

Although Halep drew first blood in the second set Svitolina broke back immediately and at 4-3 made the decisive breakthrough, breaking the former world No 1’s serve to love. Serving for the match, Svitolina saved a break point before closing out victory when Halep netted a return.

The other semi-final berth from the Purple Group will be decided by a showdown on Friday between Halep and Pliskova, who recorded her first win of the week when Andreescu was forced to retire from their match after losing the first set 6-3.

Simona Halep can still qualify for the semi-finals despite her defeat to Svitolina

Andreescu led 2-0 but then injured her left knee when stretching for a forehand. The US Open champion had it heavily strapped during a medical time-out, but her movement was clearly hampered thereafter. Two days earlier Andreescu had hurt her back in losing to Halep.

The Canadian, who cannot now make the semi-finals, is due to play Svitolina in her final group match on Friday, but will have a scan on her injured knee before deciding whether or not to play. Sofia Kenin is the second alternate, Kiki Bertens having already replaced the injured Naomi Osaka.

“I stepped weirdly on a return,” Andreescu said after her retirement. “I heard my knee crack. It kind of went inwards. Putting pressure afterwards on it really bothered me. I could barely bend my knee. But I fought with the pain as much as I could. At some point an athlete has to say ‘stop’ and just listen to their body. That’s what I did.It’s disappointing because this is the last tournament of the year and you want to go all out.”

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