Svitolina’s sublime summer keeps on rolling

 - Alex Sharp

The world No.5 is in formidable form at the US Open but is fully focused on the challenge ahead.

Elina Svitolina US Open 2021©Pete Staples / USTA

Champions frequently refer to things falling into place, that several factors come together to boost them towards major glory.

Elina Svitolina has long been projected as a Grand Slam winner. Featuring in her 35th major, the 26-year-old has achieved incredible consistency, with at least quarter-finals to her name across all four Grand Slams.

This summer seems like it’s all slotting into place for the Ukrainian.

Wedding, Tokyo and title

First up Svitolina married the leading entertainer of tennis, Gaël Monfils in July. She’s said multiple times, life with someone who understands the unique and relentless nature of the tennis world has been hugely beneficial. 

Then there is pride. The No.5 seed had her ‘honeymoon’ at Tokyo 2020, where Svitolina won bronze and Ukraine’s first ever Olympic tennis medal. 

That would represent a pretty stellar summer for most, but Svitolina kept the foot down. Early exits in Montreal and Cincinnati threatened to derail the momentum, but nine successive match wins later, the 26-year-old has returned to the US Open second week. 

Three steady performances in New York have provided the platform for a 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Simona Halep, outclassing the No.12 seed with brave and instinctive shot-making. Strong serving (landing 66 per cent of first deliveries), controlled aggression with 16 winners and 9/16 success rate at net.

Significantly, it was the first time Svitolina (6-4 up in their head-to-head) had defeated the Romanian on the Grand Slam stage.

Controlled aggression the key

Svitolina can be guilty of falling into comfort on the baseline, with passive play creeping in. Not on Sunday night. Bold, proactive, Svitolina marches on. 

“Right now I'm feeling good. I think I'm playing really aggressive right now. I think the most aggressive I've ever been, making lots of winners, serving really good,” reflected the No.5 seed.

“I think it was really strong performance from me on the important moments, even when Simona came back in the second set to break me again.

“It was extremely tough, but I think I was mentally strong, didn't let that break me. Really helped me to close this match in two sets.”

Svitolina collected her 16th title in Chicago in the lead-up to Flushing Meadows and has now won 11 consecutive sets.

“For sure I'm feeling that I'm in the right place right now. I'm feeling good on the court. My movement is good,” added the 26-year-old, with tunnel vision in New York.

“For sure it was a good decision, good call from Andy (coach) to get a wild card to play in Chicago. I had some good matches because obviously after Cincinnati, that match against Angie (Kerber), was maybe not my best performance.

“Right now I just want to focus on this moment where I'm feeling good, where I just want to build on that, I want to focus on the next challenge.”

Teenage sensation next in line

That next challenge will be up against teenage sensation Leylah Fernandez, who has enthralled the US Open crowds with compelling comebacks against defending champion Naomi Osaka and 2016 winner Kerber. 

Svitolina is wary. 

“We played once in Monterrey (2020). She was striking the ball already good there. It was a tough match for me (6-4, 7-5 win). I really saw in that time that she can play great tennis,” recalled Svitolina, a 2019 US Open semi-finalist. 

“Right now we can see that she improved. She started to believe more, I guess, in herself. Beating Naomi, it's a good sign that she's playing well. For me it's important to focus on my game and to bring my best game to quarter-final.”

For 18-year-old Fernandez, breaking new ground on the major stage, it’s been a spectacular introduction to the second week of a Grand Slam. 

I did have to pinch myself a little bit to see that it actually happened, but I knew that my tennis, my level of tennis is there,” stated the assured Canadian. 

“It's just a moment of time, opportunity, and I'm glad that I was able to get this opportunity now and that I was able to showcase what I can do in front of these players.”

In the zone Svitolina versus a fired-up Fernandez. Make sure you tune in.