BEIJING, CHINA – No.19 Elina Svitolina scored her second win over a reigning World No.1, beating Angelique Kerber 6-3, 7-5 to advance to the quarterfinals of the China Open. She’ll play Daria Gavrilova for a spot in the semifinals.
Three takeaways from Svitolina’s solid win:
1. Mental focus was the key to Svitolina’s win.
Svitolina is a fiery player and she’s never been shy about wearing her emotions for all to see. The frustration can mount quickly for the 22-year-old, but she’s slowly learning to let go. That could be the key to unlocking another level in her game.
“Today was a good win for me,” Svitolina told reporters. “The way I played was really good. I was going for my shots, sometimes just staying with the ball, not missing in important moments.
“I think I’m moving in a good way. Playing against top players, this is the main goal. I try to really stay on their level and then get better.”
Just two months ago, Svitolina knocked out then No.1 Serena Williams from the Olympic tennis event. Now she avenged her Montreal loss to Kerber to score another win over a No.1. Svitolina’s young career continues to have its ups and downs but she remains a frustrating player to face because at her best, she isn’t going to give you free points. You have to earn every single one, and when you’re not at your best that can prove very difficult.
“The main thing is to just stay in the moment, to think about the plan, about the match, what is my next step, next action,” Svitolina said. “So I try to really don’t think about [playing a No.1]. If I think too much, I lose my way.
“Of course, Angelique or Serena, they’re not letting you play your game. If you’re out for even two, three seconds, they just going to do winners. They are there all the time. They’re not letting you go.”
Kerber had a break lead in both sets but she would finish just 2 for 11 on break points in the match. On the key points, Svitolina stood tall, worked her defense in and out of the corners, and made Kerber hit the extra ball. In Montreal, Svitolina grew easily frustrated when Kerber’s counter-punching skills resulted in impossible gets. On Thursday, Svitolina shrugged them off and got back to work.
“The main thing was just mentally to be focused,” Svitolina said. “Even if you play a good point against her, she can play some amazing shot back. Still you need to be, Next point, don’t eat yourself from inside. This is really important when you play against her because sometimes she gets some balls which is, like, unbelievable, playing amazing shots from down the line.”
Svitolina’s run in Beijing puts her in solid position to qualify for the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai at the end of the season. Svitolina played the inaugural event last season and she’s looking forward to returning.
“The atmosphere is great there,” she said. “It’s like the second after Singapore. So there’s always motivation. Just 12 players there. It’s really special to play there. It’s still a big, big tournament. It’s really special for me.”
2. Kerber’s China swing bore little fruit.
After winning her second major title at the US Open and rising to World No.1 for the first time in her career, Kerber’s run through China was a frustrating one, bowing out in the third round at both the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and the China Open. That’s not the consolidating run the German was looking for, especially as she was trying to lock up the Year-End No.1 ranking before the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
The good news for Kerber is there was no pattern through both losses. She had the bad luck of running into an on-fire Petra Kvitova in Wuhan and the two played a grueling, high-quality match that may go down as the match of the WTA season. She was the only player to take a set off Kvitova last week and she walked away with her head held high.
The loss to Svitolina was far more worrisome, though much of Kerber’s erratic play could be chalked up to the right leg injury she carried into the match. She refused to use the injury as an excuse for her loss and said she did not believe the injury to be serious, but it was evident she was unable to play her physical, counter-punching game against Svitolina. The Ukrainian played her solid game-style perfectly and forced Kerber to go for too much to terminate points. On this day the World No.1 missed more than she made.
“I think it was up-and-down match,” Kerber said. “I played a few games really good and then I did a lot of easy mistakes. She was moving good. She brings a lot of balls back. I think that was the key, why she beat me at the end.”
3. Kerber’s pre-Singapore dilemma.
Kerber is currently entered as the top seed in the Hong Kong Open next week. On one hand, playing the event would give her a chance to earn points towards the year-end No.1 ranking and a good run there could boost her confidence heading into Singapore.
On the other hand, the most important thing for Kerber is to play the WTA Finals healthy. She has come into the event sputtering in the past, having exhausted herself with last minute pushes to qualify, and she has never qualified out of the round robin stage of the event. With so much on the line in Singapore, it’s a tough choice for Kerber.
“It’s right after the match, so I don’t know exactly with my leg or whatever,” Kerber said when asked if she would play Hong Kong. “But it’s still in my schedule.”
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