Elina Svitolina won the Olympic bronze medal in the women's singles event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The World No.6 came back from 1-4 down in the final set to defeat Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina, 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 and win Ukraine's first Olympic tennis medal.
Playing in her second Olympics, Svitolina's trademark grit and determination was the story of her bronze medal run. Four of her six matches were won in a deciding set, with over 13 hours spent on court. Svitolina defeated Laura Siegemund, Ajla Tomljanovic, Maria Sakkari and Camila Giorgi, before losing in the semifinals to Marketa Vondrousova. Against Rybakina, who breezed through the tournament without losing a set before the semifinals, Svitolina chipped away for 2 hours and 24 minutes, which was still just the third-longest match she played this week.
"Coming here, for sure my goal was to win a gold medal, and it was extremely tough to lose in the semi-finals and then try to regroup and come again against a top player who is playing really good,” Svitolina said, as reported by the ITF Website. "To win such a big battle for the bronze medal definitely means the world to me. Everyone in Ukraine is watching – we don’t win so many medals, you know – so for sure, it’s very special for me and for Ukraine."
In their first meeting on hard courts, Rybakina's baseline power game was in full flow at the start. In the first set, Svitolina managed to win just five points across her three service games. After fending off Svitolina in a 10-minute game to hold to 2-1, Rybakina overwhelmed the Ukrainian's serve to pocket the opener in 28 minutes.
"My secret is to overcome those bad thoughts with something more positive, so I can focus on the future and leave the bad things behind," Svitolina said. "I was upset in the beginning, but I got back, pulled myself together. This was a hell of a match for me, but fighting for a bronze medal meant a lot to me and I was focused on that."
After falling behind an early break in the second set, Svitolina dug in and dialed up her intensity and aggression to force Rybakina to a tiebreak. The turning point came at 5-5, as Rybakina crafted a perfect baseline point to earn a standard forehand volley at the net that would have given her a match point. But Rybakina pushed the volley wide to give Svitolina set point and then mistimed a forehand return to give Svitolina the set.
Under immediate pressure in her opening service game of the final set, Rybakina overcame a double-fault at 30-all to save break point and hold her serve. Now it was Svitolina's turn to strike a double fault and face down break point. Instead of leaning into the aggressive mindset that earned her the second set, Svitolina hit a tentative forehand that landed short and Rybakina fired a forehand winner to break to 2-0.
Again, Svitolina refused to give in. The three-time major semifinalist and 2019 WTA Finals champion kept the return pressure on Rybakina before finally breaking her for just the second time in the match to get back on serve at 3-4. With Rybakina reeling, Svitolina pounced, breaking serve for a third time to earn a chance to serve for the win.
With the weight of Olympic history for Ukraine on her shoulders, Svitolina finally converted on her seventh match point in the final game to seal one of the biggest comebacks of her career, adding Olympic bronze to a resume that already includes 15 WTA titles, including the 2019 WTA Finals.
In her only previous Olympic appearance in 2016, Svitolina defeated Andrea Petkovic, Heather Watson and Serena Williams to reach the quarterfinals before losing to eventual bronze medalist Petra Kvitova.
"I hoped to win an Olympic medal for my country – and that’s not easy," Svitolina said. "All of the competitors were fighting, all of the matches were tough battles – this is what you expect at the Olympics, right? I was upset to have lost in the semi-finals but now I’m happy having won the bronze. I’m really proud of myself this week, and winning bronze crowns it for sure."
Switzerland's Belinda Bencic and Czech Republic's Marketa Vondrousova will play for the gold medal later on Saturday. Earlier, Brazil's Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani saved four match points to defeat Russia's Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina for bronze in doubles and give Brazil its first Olympic tennis medal.
Ashleigh Barty and John Peers took bronze in mixed doubles after Serbia's Novak Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic withdrew due to injury.