HUA HIN, Thailand - No.1 seed Elina Svitolina continued to make serene progress through the GSB Thailand Open presented by E@ draw, dispatching qualifier Storm Sanders 6-1, 6-2 in 57 minutes to reach her first quarterfinal of the season.
Svitolina came into Hua Hin with a modest 4-3 record in 2020, having been ousted in the first round of Brisbane by Danielle Collins and the third round of the Australian Open by eventual finalist Garbiñe Muguruza, before going 2-1 in Fed Cup Group I zonal action last weekend in Tallinn as she led Ukraine to a promotion to April's play-offs. This week, though, she has been finding her form - and today, landed five aces en route to setting up a last-eight clash against No.8 seed Nao Hibino.
"I was playing well today," said Svitolina afterwards. "I'm very happy with the way I was playing - I think she was really tough, I had to step up my game, and in the end this was the key for the match." The 13-time WTA titlist also spoke about playing her first night match here: "You have to adjust because it's very dark when you toss the ball," she noted. "That's pretty much the difference - but in the end I'm happy to play later because it's cooler!"
Former World No.202 Sanders' recent comeback to singles action has been an impressive one: the Australian had compiled a 15-4 record in just five events since last October, including a win over Heather Watson in Brisbane qualifying last month. This week, the left-hander had qualified for her first WTA main draw since Nanchang 2016, and picked up her first win at this level since upsetting Peng Shuai at Hobart 2014 as a 19-year-old wildcard in her WTA main draw debut. However, competing against a Top 10 player for the first time in her career, the step up from Sanders' usual competition level was evident throughout.
Initially, the World No.319 struggled to find a balance between aggression and accuracy, dropping the first six points and hitting herself out of the first two games, with Svitolina breaking on a dead net cord. But the Ukrainian also took some time to find her rhythm fully, and after Sanders had landed a pair of powerful blows to carve out a break-back point, handed the lead back with a double fault.
The fourth game would prove crucial as both players sought their groove - and it would go the way of the WTA Finals runner-up, who regained the advantage on her fourth break point as a Sanders backhand went long. Thereafter, Svitolina - who had not lost a player ranked outside the Top 300 since 2012, when future Top 50 player Danka Kovinic defeated her in an ITF 25K event in Podgorica - took ruthless control. Tightening up her baseline game, the World No.4 would drop only three more points as she raced towards sealing the first set.
Consecutive down-the-line winners off each wing sparked some hope for Sanders at the start of the second set - but Svitolina had also raised her game, and was equal to the task of nullifying her opponent's power. Indeed, it was the Wimbledon and US Open semifinalist who proved better able to dominate from the first blow, winning 82% of her first serve points over the course of the match. By contrast, Sanders would land only 37% of her first serves, and won only 50% of those points.
As the second set went on, unreturnable serves began to rain down from the Svitolina racquet. Having broken Sanders with an aggressive backhand return in the fifth game, she consolidated her lead with back-to-back aces - to which Sanders responded with back-to-back double faults en route to dropping serve again to fall behind 2-5. Appropriately enough, Svitolina - who would lose only three points on serve in the second set - wasted no time in closing out the win to love, finishing with a fifth ace down the tee.