WUHAN, China - No.3 seed Elina Svitolina's quest to qualify for the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen took another step forward at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open with a focused 6-4, 6-2 defeat of qualifier Svetlana Kuznetsova in one hour and 16 minutes.
The Ukrainian, who is currently in ninth position in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen as she seeks to defend the biggest title of her career at last year's WTA Finals, extended her head-to-head lead over Kuznetsova to 3-1 - having defeated the former World No.2 for her maiden Top 20 scalp as a 19-year-old in their first meeting, in the opening round of the 2014 Australian Open. It was another razor-sharp display of scoreboard awareness from Svitolina, who weathered intermittent flurries of superlative shotmaking from the Cincinnati finalist to maintain an iron grip of the match throughout.
"Today I think it was a lot about tactics," assessed Svitolina afterwards. "Just tried to keep the ball out of the middle, try to work with the ball, try to get the angles and don't rush. Obviously she gets a lot of balls back. If you rush or you go for too much, you can lose it little bit. For me it was important to stay patient and try to find the angles."
The World No.3 expanded on her different tactical approaches to every match, comparing her court position nearer the baseline today to how far back she had played in defeating Garbiñe Muguruza yesterday. "Svetlana is a completely different, opposite player to Garbine," explained Svitolina. "Today I had little bit more time, so that's why I moved forward. I always change. Depends on the player. I'm not that kind of player who has one game plan for everyone - I always do things different [for] each player, each day."
To that end, when asked which current or former player she would most like to have an on-court coaching session from, Svitolina was quick to name a legendary duo: Stefanie Graf and Andre Agassi.
"Andre Agassi is my all-time favorite," she smiled. "He was not extremely tall, so he was [not] smashing everyone off the court. He was a great mover. His game was about tactics, to find a way to beat some players who are stronger, who are hitting stronger shots. It's similar to my game style, so I try to find a way."
— WTA (@WTA) September 25, 2019
Creating glorious winners off both wings out of the blocks, the Russian managed to pass an early test when she saved three break points to come through a six-deuce tussle in the third game. But Svitolina's pressure was relentless - particularly on Kuznetsova's second serve, which garnered her only 32% of the points behind it - and she upped the ante on her forehand two games later to capture the break anyway.
Suddenly leaking errors, Kuznetsova quickly slipped behind a double break with her loosest service game of the match. Though the World No.69 mustered some more excellent tennis for a two-game fightback, breaking Svitolina for the first time by sneaking into net off a canny short slice, the deficit was too much to make up: serving for the set a second time, the Wimbledon and US Open semifinalist made no mistake, finding a brace of forehand winners and a pair of unreturnable serves to quell Kuznetsova's comeback.
— WTA (@WTA) September 25, 2019
As in the first set, the opening stages of the second were crucial as both players sought to get on the front foot. Forays into the forecourt paid off for each, but it was Svitolina who emerged from a three-break sequence with a lead that she would not relinquish.
As Kuznetsova's double faults mounted to five and her backhand began to go increasingly awry, contributing to a final tally of 33 unforced errors to 20 winners, Svitolina's grip of the match tightened. The 25-year-old picked her moments to turn defence into attack precisely, injected pace into her groundstrokes cleverly and continued to execute well at net. A double break followed, and Svitolina sealed the match in style with a love hold that featured a second ace, a marvellous forehand pass and finally an emphatic backhand winner - her 16th of the match to only 15 unforced errors. Up next in the last eight for the 2014 semifinalist as she seeks to match her career-best Wuhan performance will be either No.8 seed Wang Qiang or Alison Riske.