On her 25th birthday, World No.1 Ashleigh Barty gifted herself a comeback win at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, overcoming No.4 seed Elina Svitolina, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 to advance to the final in Stuttgart in her tournament debut.
After losing her first five meetings with Svitolina, Barty has now won three times in a row against the Ukrainian, having also recently obtained a straight-set semifinal victory that came last month at the Miami Open.
This time around, though, the Australian had to grit through a tightly contested battle in just over two hours of play. Now she is one victory away from becoming the first reigning World No.1 to hoist the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix trophy since Justine Henin in 2007.
"I think you learn from every single match regardless of who the opponent is, but I think the Top 10 players and particularly the WTA Top 10 have, in the last five or six years, been exceptional quality," Barty told the press, after her win."
"I think you have to bring your best to be able to compete," the World No.1 continued. "You know when it forces some of your best tennis out of you. So, it’s nice, in the critical moments, to come up with some pretty good stuff yesterday and today again. But obviously you enjoy the challenge of playing against the world’s best as well."
Barty finished off the match with 36 winners, ten more than her unforced error total of 26. Svitolina ended up with slightly more unforced errors than Barty, 33 in total, and was denied her first win over a current World No.1 since she defeated Simona Halep at Rome in 2018.
A number of routine holds started the opening frame before Svitolina’s penetrating shots drew errors from Barty at 3-3, giving the Ukrainian a critical break. With solid serving backing up her groundstroke play, Svitolina eased to the one-set lead without facing a break point.
Barty’s powerful play kicked into gear in the second set, as she was more pristine at net than she had been earlier. Big hitting, which led to a putaway winner, gave the Aussie an early break for 2-0, and she extended that lead to 4-1. However, a winning dropshot by Svitolina allowed her to break back for 4-3, during a stretch where the Ukrainian reeled off 12 out of 13 points.
But Svitolina could not successfully serve out the match at 5-4, and the pair eventually moved into a second-set tiebreak. Down 2-4 in the breaker, Barty varied her winners, including dropshots, volleys, and fierce forehands, and zipped to double set point at 6-4. Svitolina saved one with an ace, but an error-forcing backhand at net by Barty allowed the top seed to eke out the set.
"I think in the first set [Svitolina] served exceptionally well, and it was important for me to try and find a way to get into her service games," Barty said. "There were ebbs and flows throughout that second set. It was just important to me to try and stick with it, still continue to try and do the right things and put myself in a position where I felt I could win the match.
"From being 4-2 down, I felt I was a little bit more aggressive, I was able to come in on a few of those points, which was important to take time away coming into the net."
Barty wrested control for good at 1-1 in the final set, where a back-and-forth game finally went the World No.1’s way as she found the sideline to force an error from Svitolina on her sixth break point. Barty eased home from there to notch a birthday victory.