STRASBOURG, France -- No.2 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine claimed a spot in her second WTA singles final of the season with a hard-fought 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win over No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus at the Internationaux de Strasbourg on an overcast Friday.
"Winning titles is something that you always want to do when you enter the tournament," Svitolina told the press, after her win. "Every final is special, and you try to give everything that you have to have that trophy."
In a clash which featured a brief rain interruption at the outset, it was Svitolina who overcame her foe in the tense one-hour and 54-minute victory. The World No.5 avenged a three-set loss to Sabalenka in their only previous meeting, which came on the hardcourts of Wuhan in 2018.
Svitolina won 73 percent of points when she got her first serve into play against Sabalenka, and converted six of her 10 break points in the encounter. The victory puts Svitolina a single win away from her second title of the year, having triumphed in Monterrey just prior to the tennis calendar's hiatus.
"Each match, I’m playing better and better," said Svitolina. "I played some good matches against top players, in Rome as well. I have the final tomorrow, so it’s important for me to take every match and move forward from there."
World No.12 Sabalenka, who had completed her quarterfinal earlier in the day, fired 39 winners in the match, well outpacing her opponent's 17. However, the Belarusian was undone by a matching total of 39 unforced errors, and she was pipped at the end of the match to be denied the sixth Top 5 win of her career.
Svitolina will now battle No.5 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan for the Strasbourg championship trophy. Rybakina moved into her fifth WTA singles final of the season after notching a straight-set victory over Nao Hibino of Japan in the day’s earlier semifinal.
Rybakina and Svitolina will be facing off for the first time in Saturday’s final. World No.18 Rybakina leads the WTA in match-wins this season, with 28, but Svitolina has built a sterling 14-3 win-loss record in WTA singles finals during her illustrious career.
"I’m looking forward to the final," Svitolina stated. "Every final is special to me, and I have just excitement, I would say."
With the match having barely begun, drizzle started in the first point of Sabalenka’s service game. After the Belarusian double faulted to bring up Svitolina’s second break point of the game, the precipitation became too much for either to bear, and play was suspended for 45 minutes.
When the match resumed, Sabalenka fired her second straight double fault, dropping serve to give Svitolina a 2-0 lead. However, the fourth seed quickly recovered, dominating the next game with a series of fierce forehands to pull back on serve at 2-1.
Svitolina, though, increasingly found the lines and the corners with pinpoint accuracy on her groundstrokes, and after holding for 3-2, the Ukrainian forced an error with a fabulous forehand of her own to reach triple break point. Svitolina only needed the first chance, after a wide backhand by Sabalenka put the second seed up a break once more.
After saving a break point en route to a hold for 5-2, Svitolina garnered her first set point in the next game after another untimely Sabalenka double fault. Sabalenka was able to power her way back to game point, but two miscues by the Belarusian gave Svitolina a second opportunity to close out the set, which she did with a forehand winner off of a dropshot.
After four love service holds started the second set, though, it was Sabalenka who started to make inroads on the Svitolina service. The Belarusian did get to 30-30 at 2-2, but strong serving by Svitolina helped her hold on and reach a 3-2 lead.
Svitolina was less fortunate on serve at 3-3, as a booming Sabalenka return queued up a break point. There, Sabalenka clinched her first service break of the day, taking a 4-3 lead after a wide unforced error off the forehand side by Svitolina.
Svitolina had a chance to get level again in the very next game, but Sabalenka saved a break point by setting up a forehand winner with a crosscourt backhand. Two thunderous Sabalenka forehand winners followed, including one plumb on the baseline to grit out the hold for 4-4. Two games later, another fabulous forehand by Sabalenka forced an error, giving her the second set.
"[Sabalenka] was taking more risks, because when you are a set down, you are looking for some ways to try to win," said Svitolina. "She played great in the game she broke me."
"I knew that I had to fight, maybe play a little bit deeper, to try to be aggressive, and I think that worked well in the third set when I got the lead," the No.2 seed added.
In the decider, it was Svitolina who went ahead first, breaking for 2-0, but Sabalenka used powerful returns to storm back on serve at 3-2. A hold at love by Sabalenka for 3-3 guaranteed a close finish to the tilt between the Top 20 players.
Once again, Svitolina went up a break, taking the 5-3 lead after consecutive backhand miscues by Sabalenka. However, serving for the match, the Ukrainian double faulted at 30-30 to hand Sabalenka a break point, and the Belarusian was more than happy to convert it, sealing the point with a volley winner after bold hitting set her up for a move into the forecourt.
Leading 40-0 in the next game, it seemed that Sabalenka was all set to head into extra innings. But two double faults and a wide forehand put the game back to deuce, and, suddenly, another long forehand by Sabalenka brought Svitolina to match point. The Ukrainian ended up with the victory after Sabalenka’s third double fault of the game unfortunately ended an otherwise superb match.
"I think it was just fighting spirit in the end," said Svitolina. "I was just trying to be really strong, and I got a few unforced errors from Aryna, and I think I was fighting until the end, even at 0-40 down."