ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- No.2 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine had to go down to the wire to reach the Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open quarterfinals on Sunday, just eking past No.17 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(8).
Svitolina needed to come back from 3-5 down in the final set and save two match points during the final-set tiebreak before clinching the well-earned victory after two hours and 25 minutes of high-quality tennis from both players.
"I think [from] both sides, she was striking the ball really well," Svitolina said, during her post-match press conference. "Even on the move, from almost every part of the court. So it was really tricky for me to come back from being 3-5 down. I was just trying to be focused on every point and not let this match take away the good tennis that I played in the first set."
"I’m just enjoying myself playing in these conditions, and hopefully I can go even further this week," Svitolina added.
The contest was a rematch of their third-round match at Roland Garros from last year, which Svitolina won in straight sets. This time, Alexandrova pushed the World No.5 to the very last moment, but the Russian was barely denied the second Top 5 win of her career.
World No.33 Alexandrova was firing on all cylinders during the match, slamming 40 winners, twice as many as Svitolina. However, Alexandrova's 57 unforced errors also nearly doubled the count from Svitolina, and it was the Ukrainian who was rewarded at the very end by winning 71 percent of her first-service points, compared to 57 percent for the Russian.
Now safely into the quarterfinals, Svitolina will next take on a third straight Russian opponent -- Veronika Kudermetova, who got past Spain’s Paula Badosa in three sets earlier on Sunday. Kudermetova upset Svitolina in their only previous match, which took place in Moscow in 2019.
"It was unfortunately not the best match for me, but we still played to three sets," Svitolina recalled. "It’s going to be a really good match, really looking forward to trying to get revenge. She has quite flat shots, so I’ll have to be ready."
An early exchange of breaks opened the affair, but following that, Svitolina was nearly flawless in the opening frame. The Ukrainian fired a backhand return down the line to earn another break and lead 2-1, then held comfortably to consolidate for 3-1.
Another break came Svitolina’s way as she eased to a 5-1 lead, before Alexandrova was able to regroup and stop the run of games by the No.2 seed, holding for 5-2. That proved to be a minor blip for Svitolina, who powered her way to a love hold to close out the first set in 30 minutes.
However, despite being broken in the opening game, Alexandrova’s hard-hitting style of play began to pay dividends in the second set. The Russian clawed the break back for 2-2, and though she fell behind a break twice more in the set, each time Alexandrova hit her way through danger and pulled back on serve.
In the third of those instances, with Svitolina serving for the match at 5-4, the Russian blasted her way to 0-40 with a series of down-the-line winners, then converted for the break with tremendous heft and depth on her shots. The Russian was able to pull herself out of peril all set, saving two break points at 5-5 and keeping on track for a second-set tiebreak.
In the breaker, Alexandrova opened with a double fault and was behind 4-2 at the change of ends, but a return winner and a dropshot winner pulled her level at 4-4. At 5-5, the Russian crushed a backhand down the line, putting away the short reply with an overhead to reach set point at 6-5. There, Alexandrova found an exceptional angled winner in the forecourt to square the match at one set all.
Alexandrova obtained the first break of the decider, moving ahead to 2-1 courtesy of another fearsome forehand, and her flat shots were finding the court with even greater regularity. At 3-2, the Russian slid from 40-0 to deuce, but she was still able to pull out the power when she needed to most, wrapping up that game with an ace to reach 4-2.
Svitolina was in deep trouble when she faced three break points in the next game, but the Ukrainian hung tough to withstand those problems and stay behind a single break. Still, Alexandrova smoothly held for 5-3 with more fierce forehands, and she earned a chance to serve for victory at 5-4.
In that game, though, the Russian’s first-set miscues returned, as she misfired long on the last two points of the game to let Svitolina back level at 5-5. Two routine holds by both from there queued up the third-set tiebreak to decide the winner.
At 5-5 in the breaker, another forehand winner down the line by Alexandrova gave the Russian a match point, which was saved by a Svitolina ace. The Russian’s forehand again set up a second match point, but it was squandered by a backhand error, and Svitolina had saved the pair to get to 7-7.
It was Svitolina’s turn to get to match point with a forehand winner, reaching 8-7, but Alexandrova fired another winner, this time from the backhand side, for 8-8. Svitolina, unfazed, slammed a stellar serve to garner a second match point of her own at 9-8, and that was converted by the No.2 seed after a long forehand by her opponent.