TORONTO, Canada - It was a day for the record books at the Rogers Cup, as Elina Svitolina broke new ground on the Premier 5 level with an unprecedented third title of 2017, romping past former WTA World No.1 and 2010 champion Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets.
Soon after Svitolina's win guaranteed her a Top 4 debut, tying her for the highest-ever ranked Ukrainian with former ATP player Andrei Medvedev, dynamic Russian duo Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina not only won their 10th straight match of the season, but also became the first team to win Montréal and Toronto in back-to-back years.
WTA Insider caught up with the winners to discuss their impressive weeks, and what it all means going forward.
Elina SVITOLINA (UKR)
WTA Insider: Elina, this is your third win over Caroline. Last year, you played for the first time and it went to a third set tiebreak at the Miami Open. Since then it seems you’ve gotten used to her game. What did you learn from that first match?
Svitolina: All the matches we played were very different. I tried to take some positives from the Miami match, and then the match in Dubai, which was a very special win for me. I was playing great tennis today, and it was a different situation today because I was very tired. I wanted to finish quickly, but against Caroline that’s usually not possible because she runs very well and gets lots of balls back. I needed to be patient, and earn all the points.
WTA Insider: A lot of people still talk about your match at the French Open against Simona Halep. How relieved are you to have been able to earn good results after that to the point where maybe you don’t have to have that memory so close to the forefront of your mind?
Svitolina: It’s been very tough. I was obviously a couple of points - or one point - away from making a semifinal, which would have been the biggest achievement in my career. Losing that match was very tough, but it’s experience, and it’s tennis. I tried to move on, because I still had lots of matches in front of me. I’m 22 years old, and there will be lots of matches, good and bad. I try to keep learning all the time.
WTA Insider: It seemed that in the press conference earlier, some of the questions were about what you thought your biggest weapon is on the court. I’ve always been struck by your competitiveness, and your grit. I remember when you were still a teenager and playing US Open qualifying matches against Michelle Larcher de Brito and Valeria Savinykh, and it was as if you were flinging yourself into the ball. Where does that competitiveness come from?
Svitolina: It comes from a young age. My family is all in sports, and that’s always been in my family. I always looked up to my older brother and wanted to beat him. It took me five or six years - maybe more! - to finally do that. I think this really helped me, and that’s why I have this now. I don’t think I could be any different.
WTA Insider: At 22 years old, you’ve talked about maturing over the last few years. Was there a moment where you felt that was something you needed to do, or was it just a matter of getting more experience by being on tour year after year? How did that process evolve for you?
Svitolina: I think there’s two sides of it. As a person, I got more mature, but as a tennis player, I got more experience. I learned what it felt like to win and lose tough matches. It’s all a process, and it’s part of my career.
WTA Insider: With this week in Toronto, you’ve earned wins over pretty much everyone in the Top 10: Pliskova, Halep, Kerber, Muguruza, and Wozniacki - how much confidence does it give you going into these big tournaments knowing that there’s no one you can’t beat?
Svitolina: It brings lots of confidence, and I’m very happy with my year. I’m doing a good job, but there’s still lots of things that I need to improve, and I’m always looking for something I can improve on or learn each day. That’s why I have my team to keep me on the ground.
WTA Insider: There were so many Ukrainian fans today cheering you on in Toronto. You talked about getting more and more attention before this week, so how much more do you think you’ll be getting after this win?
Svitolina: I haven’t opened my phone yet, only to speak to my family. Of course, there will be lots of congratulations. It’s amazing to be No.4 in the world now. I’m just one spot away from beating Andrei Medvedev, which has been one of my goals, to become the highest-ever ranked Ukrainian. I’m very motivated, and hopefully I can make it this year. It’s very special, the Ukrainian support, and I really appreciate it.
WTA Insider: Finally, you talked about how big Singapore is as a goal for you last year, and now this year I imagine even more, how much would it mean to you to be able to make your debut this year?
Svitolina: I’m excited, but the year is still very long. The main goal for me is to stay healthy, and then I have my game, so I will do my best to get there.
Hear more from Svitolina in the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:
Ekaterina MAKAROVA (RUS) / Elena VESNINA (RUS)
WTA Insider: Well, ladies, you’ve won your last 10 matches, and only dropped four games in your last four finals. Just how good are you two feeling about your games right now?
Makarova: Today was another 6-0 set, and we were up 2-0 in the second set. We played very good today, and they’re tough opponents, so we came in with all of our focus and energy. We wanted to play aggressively and it worked out, but they started to play better in the second set, pushing us to a lot of deciding points. We tried to stay focused on our game in those moments, especially on match point - which was another deciding point! - so it was very close. We’re so happy to win here for a second time.
WTA Insider: Maybe “The Bagel Girls” could be in the running for team nickname, but how much more crucial is it to stay focused in those moments, when the temptation might be to relaxed when you’re so far ahead?
Vesnina: It can go away really fast, especially in the final, so it’s always a lot of pressure because everyone wants to win the title, and you want to show good tennis. Sometimes that’s not working, so you have to fight. We were really focusing on our game, but we didn’t expect it to be 6-0, 2-0 again, because they’re a really solid team. Kveta was No.1 in doubles, winning a Grand Slam, and Anna-Lena is really solid in doubles as well. It was very important to keep our level up on all those deciding points. It could have been 5-5 or 6-4, which is a pretty big difference between finishing the match or having to keep going. We’re really happy and proud with the way we handled the pressure and the way we played this week in Toronto.
WTA Insider: You’re the first doubles players to win the Rogers Cup in back-to-back years since Martina Navratilova in 2005 and 2006. What do you think makes it so difficult to win the same tournament, but at two different venues?
Makarova: It’s very tough because it’s two totally different cities and conditions. The stadium is a little different, and it’s a very strong field every year. Last year, we were so happy to have the title in Montréal after a lot of tough matches. We came back and just wanted to hold the trophy again, and we were playing very good tennis. We definitely enjoy being here!
WTA Insider: I noticed this week, Elena, that you were serving first and taking more of the deciding points on return…
Vesnina: But it’s 50-50 in our team. It’s about how we’re both feeling, and we’re always talking. Sometimes I can say, ‘You return; you were playing better than me in this game, so you decide.’ Other times, Katya will tell me that she thinks it’s better that I take the return. It’s always about the conversation and connection in doubles. Sometimes it works, and other times, not, but you have to keep working towards finding a solution to win each game. On a deciding point, only one good shot could win the whole game, so it’s really tricky and fast.
WTA Insider: Is it something you decide based on opponent?
Makarova: You have to think about who’s serving, whether she has a better forehand or backhand. Like Elena said, it’s all about the constant conversation, because someone might be feeling the return a bit better. It all depends on who we play, who’s at the net, and who’s serving.
WTA Insider: I hear you’re heading out of Toronto ASAP, but will you have any time to celebrate before you leave?
Vesnina: Noooo, we won’t be able to, but it’s okay, because we’ll celebrate all of our titles at the end of the year. Right now, we have Cincinnati coming, so we need to focus on the next tournament. Katya flies out tonight, and so do I!