After counting down the Top 5 WTA tournament matches of 2018, our year-end review moves to the biggest upsets of the season.
Up next at No.2 is Elina Svitolina’s dramatic one-set shootout against defending champion Caroline Wozniacki at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global to clinch her spot in the semifinals.
After securing a last-minute qualification, Elina Svitolina dedicated her first win in Singapore to “the haters” who felt that her spot in the WTA Finals was underserved. The Ukranian started out the season on a tear, with titles at Brisbane, Dubai and Rome under her belt - but the wins seemed to peter out after Wimbledon.
As a result, Svitolina squeaked into the WTA Finals, qualifying on the very last week after results outside of her control in Moscow. But a strong showing in Singapore turned everything around, and Svitolina quickly became the player to beat during the group stage.
Read the match report: Svitolina stops Wozniacki title defense, surges into Singapore semifinals
Entering into her match with defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, Svitolina had one mission: win a set, and she’d be through. Across the net, her opponent had a chance to advance if she won in straights sets.
Which is why the drama ratcheted up to 100 when Wozniacki claimed the opening set - the Dane denied Svitolina at 5-4, three points away from the semifinals, and roared back to claim the set.
After that, it became a one-set shootout for a spot in the next round, with both players bringing out their best counterpunching tennis to contest long, grueling rallies and cover the court in style. It was Wozniacki who blinked first, and at the moment that it mattered most. Svitolina brought up set points at 6-5, attacking the Dane’s serve relentlessly before finally converting her fifth break chance - and claiming her spot into the semifinals in the process.
With Svitolina’s advancement guaranteed despite the result, both players did well to keep up the intensity in the final set. Wozniacki piled the pressure on Svitolina, but the Ukrainian handled it like a champion, grabbing the decisive break at 5-3 and batting away four break points to seal the win 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 after two hours and 35 minutes.
WHAT THEY SAID:
Svitolina spoke frankly during her post-match press conference, admitting that the win was a definite confidence-booster in light of her less-than-stellar results going into the WTA Finals and her last-minute qualification:
“For me, going into this tournament was very important mentally to bounce back,” she said. “I had really, really tough second part of the season. I was actually surprised, because I was very positive and I just keep fighting.
“So this really shows I'm getting mentally tough. That's what I have been working on really hard.”
The ‘just win a set and you’re in’ format - which has felled great players in the past - was a challenge in and of itself, Svitolina also said.
“I knew that I had to win one set... There was lots of pressure, and I think for her, as well. We were both under pressure.
“Here this round robin is not easy, no easy matches, no easy scenarios. So I had to fight for every ball, and I think today I was really pushed mentally to go through really, really tough moments, because to play against Caroline, you always have to put one extra ball over the net. She always chase every ball.
“That's why, for me, this was one of the toughest probably battles mentally.”
With her title defense over and her 2018 season at an end, Wozniacki revealed some struggles of her own: a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis received before the US Open.
"I think I didn't want to talk about it obviously during the year because I don't want to give anyone the edge or thinking that I'm not feeling well, but I have been feeling well," Wozniacki said. "You learn how to just cope after matches. Some days you wake up and you can't get out of bed and you just have to know that's how it is, but other days you live and you're fine.
“So it's a lot. It's something that now I'm happy that I'm done with the season and you can just kind of control it a little bit more and figure out a plan how to control it even better in the future."
WHAT IT MEANT:
For Svitolina, the victory meant more than a spot in the semifinals - it was proof of how far she had come as a competitor: a year ago in her WTA Finals debut, Svitolina was overwhelmed by Wozniacki, managing only two games in the 6-0, 6-2 group stage beatdown.
Now, No.6 seed Svitolina would go on to claim the top spot in the White Group and advance to the knockout stage of the tournament for the first time. Once there, she’d go on to defeat Kiki Bertens in a three-set thriller, 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-4.
In the final, she mounted a big comeback to defeat former US Open champion Sloane Stephens, fighting back from a one-set deficit to claim the 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 and lift the biggest trophy of her career.
And she did it in style, going undefeated throughout the entire tournament (5-0) and extending her record in WTA finals to a lethal 13-2. As a result, Svitolina powered back into the WTA’s Top 5 ranking to land at World No.4 - the best year-end ranking of her career.