SINGAPORE - Elina Svitolina has dedicated much of her run to the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global to “the haters,” a group with whom Sloane Stephens, her opponent on Sunday, is all too familiar.
“A lot of the top girls who have up-and-down results, a win here and then they lose there, we all kind of deal with the same thing,” she said after pulling off an inspired comeback over Karolina Pliskova in the second semifinal. “I definitely know what she's talking about.”
Stephens punctuated a season spent backing up her maiden major title with a ticket to Singapore, and indeed, it was that desire to back up that victory at the 2017 US Open that fueled her fire.
“Everyone was, like, ‘Oh, she's a one-hit wonder, she'll never do anything again, it was just lucky, no one was playing, blah, blah, blah,’ and I think this season I was just like ‘I really want to play a little more consistent, I want to have some better results in the bigger tournaments and just do better and show that I'm, you know, I'm a top-10 player or top whatever player.’
She made a long-awaited Top 10 debut after capturing her first Premier Mandatory title at the Miami Open, and engaged World No.1 Simona Halep in a rivalry that WTA Legends Ambassador Chris Evert wants to see more of in 2019, pushing the Romanian to three sets in the finals of both Roland Garros and the Coupe Rogers.
“I think of not playing tennis for 11 months and having surgery and having to reset my whole life and career and kind of figure out what was really important to me tennis-wise, I think that this year I have done extremely well. I don't think anyone can say that I had a bad season.
“From what I did this year, I want to continue to build obviously for next year, and I think ending this tournament here, win or finals, I think will help me going into 2019.”
From peaking at World No.11 at 20 years old - the same year she shocked Serena Williams to reach the Australian Open semifinals in 2013 - Stephens has long been open about dealing with criticism, from sectors of both social and media.
“I think that a lot of people, whether it be on Twitter or commentators, whatever, they're always, like, ‘Well, in my day…’ or, ‘If I had the chance to do it, if I was competing…’ Yeah, but you're not. That kind of changes things.
“I think even in her position, like, she's a great player,” she continued, referring to Svitolina. “Obviously she's had an amazing year. if anybody says anything, she's had a great year. People from the outside looking in who are not in tennis, this is our job. But like the little number of people who do really well or make over $3 million a year, you're gonna get judged are harshly.
“I think if you're okay with what you're doing and you're happy with it and you're fine with the way your results are going and the way you look and how your hair is then…”
She pauses with a smile.
“I was going to say something inappropriate. But be happy with it, because the only thing that matters is if you're happy and if inside you feel good about yourself, and that's it.”
Stephens plays Svitolina for the Billie Jean King Trophy on Sunday evening.