Elina Svitolina reversed the result of last year's Brisbane International semifinal in this year's rematch, ousting defending champion Karolina Pliskova in straight sets.
Alex Macpherson
January 5, 2018

BRISBANE, Australia - In the second semifinal of the day, a tenacious No.3 seed Elina Svitolina overcame a slow start and a tense finish to reel in No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova, booking a place in the Brisbane International final 7-5, 7-5 in one hour and 39 minutes.

Today's encounter was a rematch of last year's semifinal, which the Czech won 6-2, 6-4. Indeed, Pliskova had dominated the rivalry thus far, leading Svitolina 5-1 overall - with the Ukrainian's only win coming on the clay of Rome last year.

The defending champion certainly started more confidently, with pace and accuracy on her serves and depth on her returns, while Svitolina over-pressed. Repeatedly finding the net, the 23-year-old swiftly found herself staring into a 0-4 deficit.

"Of course, I was missing a lot," she said afterwards of the scrappy start to the match. "There was lots of unforced errors. But in the end, I didn't really change the way I was playing. I just started to play more aggressive and, you know, just more composed. And this was what brought me back into the game."

The World No.6's dogged approach to the game paid dividends in 2017, a year in which she won a Tour-leading five titles, and she gradually dialled herself back into the set. Instead of backing off, Svitolina continued to go after the ball - and was rewarded with a break back as she found her range with her returns and a first hold courtesy of some neat one-two punches.

Pliskova, meanwhile, was becoming all too casual instead of pressing home her lead. Serving at 4-2, 30-30, an attempt to be too cute in following a big serve went awry; indeed, throughout the match the second shot after the serve would be a recurring issue for the World No.4.

Seizing her opportunity with alacrity, Svitolina began to employ another tactic that would have repeated success today: exposing Pliskova's woodenness at net by forcing her to hit low volleys. On two consecutive points, this gave Svitolina enough time to run up to nail a passing shot - and retrieve the second break.

Another incredible get from the two-time Roland Garros quarterfinalist opened the eighth game, and by now she was in full flow. From 0-4 down, Svitolina would win 12 of the next 15 games to rattle off the first set and take herself to the brink of victory, a double break up in the second.

This has been dangerous territory for Svitolina, though: indeed, in the second of those Roland Garros quarterfinals, she let a set and 5-1 lead slip against Simona Halep. Pliskova, perhaps tired of her own groundstrokes' waywardness, suddenly injected some urgency into her game as well - and a flashing cross-court forehand to break back kickstarted a comeback of her own.

Down 3-5, the 25-year-old saved a match point with an unreturned serve, came through three deuces before finally sealing the hold with back-to-back aces. A brace of big returns gave Pliskova the advantage in the next game, and Svitolina was shaken enough to offer up a double fault and two netted forehands to lose her second break.

But the Ukrainian proved that she had learned from the past in the match's final stretch. Just as she had when facing a first-set deficit, her response at 5-5 was to up the pace and accuracy on her returns, forcing Pliskova into error. A third double fault from the former World No.1 enabled Svitolina to serve for the match for a third time - and, despite some additional Hawkeye-related drama on her third match point, she booked a place in the final when a Pliskova backhand went long.

The title match against qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich will be Svitolina's 12th career final; to date, she's won nine of those, and she'll be looking for her fourth Premier-level trophy tomorrow. "Of course, you know, I played a lot of finals already at this particular stage of the tournaments," she acknowledged. "And, yeah, you know, I have the experience - but then I need to be there tomorrow to use it and to give myself a chance to play well."