ROME, Italy -- Two-time champion Elina Svitolina is back into the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarterfinals for the third time in her career, as the Ukrainian ousted two-time Rome finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, 7-6(6), 6-4, on Friday night.
The No.4 seed, who hoisted the Rome singles trophy in 2017 and 2018, needed an hour and 54 minutes to overcome two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova, who finished runner-up at this event in 2007 and 2009.
"Definitely very happy with the game tonight," Svitolina said, during her post-match press conference. "It was a big fight. I was expecting the big battle, as always from [Kuznetsova]. She's a great fighter, and she never gives you easy matches."
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World No.6 Svitolina improved her head-to-head record against Kuznetsova to 4-1, after pulling through a tremendously close opening set that took 64 minutes to propel herself to the win. Svitolina, playing her first WTA event after the tennis hiatus, claimed 60 percent of Kuznetsova's second-service points en route to three breaks of service during the tilt.
"I don't really remember how I was feeling before all the tour stopped," Svitolina stated. "Right now, I think I'm moving well, building a point quite good, and been handling the under-pressure points quite good."
In the elite eight, Svitolina will take on the winner of Friday’s late match between No.12 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic and unseeded Polona Hercog of Slovenia.
"I practice with [both of] them quite a few times," said Svitolina. "Obviously we see each other. We know each other for many years. I know the game style that they have. A little bit different, I would say. I will have to just try to be focused on my own game."
"[I'll] just bring my best and try to recover as quick as possible, because today was quite a physical match," Svitolina continued. "But in the end, I think this really helped me today, to feel the court, to be in the competition mode. So, in the end I'm looking forward to this, another challenge."
In Friday's match, an early exchange of breaks did nothing to separate the players during the first set, as Svitolina and Kuznetsova fired pinpoint groundstrokes at each other with gusto, excelling on the clay.
The combatants advanced to 5-5, where Svitolina fell behind double break point after a perfect forehand pass by Svitolina whizzed behind the Ukrainian. Nevertheless, Svitolina drew two missed returns from the Russian to wriggle out of that challenge, and she gritted her way to a hold for 6-5.
In the next game, it was suddenly Kuznetsova’s turn to extricate herself from a tricky situation, as miscues from her racquet gave Svitolina two set points. However, the unseeded player staved off those chances as well, and after firing a fierce forehand to force an error, the Russian moved the pair into a tiebreak.
In the breaker, a Svitolina forehand winner down the line gave her a 6-4 lead and two more set points, but Kuznetsova fended those off as well. However, Svitolina dominated with her backhand to take a 7-6 lead and earn a fifth set point, and on that occasion, the Ukrainian prevailed, ending a rally with a beautiful backhand.
A deep service return by Svitolina gave her a break in the first game of the second set, as it appeared that she was holding onto the momentum after eking out the lengthy opening frame. But the Kuznetsova footspeed allowed her to deploy an array of shots from all sectors of the court, and she was able to use that variety to break back to 2-2.
However, Kuznetsova ceded her serve once more in the next game, as Svitolina slid back ahead with a backhand winner at the end of an enticing rally to lead 3-2.
The Ukrainian never rescinded that advantage, and though Kuznetsova did well to save two match points on her way to a hold for 5-4, Svitolina closed out the victory in the subsequent game, converting her fourth match point to return to the quarterfinals in Rome.