ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- No.2 seed Elina Svitolina eased past former No.2 Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 6-1 to advance to the Round of 16 at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open in 68 minutes. Svitolina will face either 17th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova or Britain's Heather Watson.
In the first career meeting between the two, Svitolina's steadiness quickly broke through Zvonareva's canny ability to redirect and take the ball early. The World No.5 broke Zvonareva five times and struck 15 winners to 14 unforced errors, while Zvonareva hit just 10 winners to 25 unforced errors.
"I think we were playing quite a good level in the first set," Svitolina said. "Then at 4-all I had a chance to break her and I took this chance. In the end I was playing quite aggressive and didn't let her come back into the match. With the performance in the first set, I'm very proud."
After an exchange of breaks in the opening two games, Svitolina and Zvonareva tightened up their games to match each other shot for shot from the baseline. Zvonareva began the match striking her backhand well and pushing Svitolina into the corners to open up the court. It was a vintage display from the former No.2, who was facing her first Top 10 opponent since defeating Karolina Pliskova at 2018 Moscow.
"I was watching her matches [when I was young] because I really like the game style she has," Svitolina said. "I think back in that time I also was looking at how she was playing, how she was competing. She's a great fighter. For me as a child, it was really impressive the way she was running and chasing every single ball. She was playing a great level at that time, she was No.2 in the world. She was definitely doing something amazing. So definitely I was watching her matches and trying to run as quick as she did and have that fighting spirit."
The difference came in the ninth game of the set. With Zvonareva serving at 4-4, Svitolina made her move to break. The World No.5 earned double-break point at 15-40 and needed just one look to break Zvonareva's serve and serve out the set. Now in the ascendancy and full of confidence in her tactics and execution, Svitolina stepped to the line and held at love, punctuating the opening set with a clean backhand winner up the line.
With a set in hand, Svitolina continued to take control of the match from the baseline, while Zvonareva's frustrations reflected in easy misses that were absent in the opening set. At 1-1, 30-all, Svitolina showed off her trademark defense to surprise Zvonareva, who missed an easy volley to give Svitolina a chance to break. Disappointed with the trouble she caused herself on the last point, Zvonareva's footwork let her down, forcing her into an awkward chop at a backhand slice that landed in the bottom of the net to hand Svitolina the break.
A two-time champion in the Middle East, having won back-to-back titles in Dubai in 2017 and 2018, Svitolina raced to the finish line. She earned a second break to 4-1 and quickly consolidated to 5-1 after just 18 minutes in the set. Disheartened, Zvonareva was broken to finish the match, hitting two double-faults in the final game.
Looking ahead, Svitolina will face Alexandrova for the second time in the last six months, having defeated the Russian at Roland Garros, 6-4, 7-5 in the third round.
"It was the first time I ever practiced or played against her," Svitolina said. "It was quite a tricky match because first of all it was on clay and it was super cold and different conditions, heavy conditions. So I know the game style that she brings. Definitely, I will have to think about the game plan for the conditions here."