DUBAI -- Elina Svitolina may have rushed her return to competition after sustaining a back injury at the Australian Open, but the 29-year-old Ukrainian is ready to take on World No.1 Iga Swiatek at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. 

In January, Svitolina opened her season with a strong run to the Auckland final and looked dominant in Melbourne, where she lost just 13 games en route to the Round of 16. But in the first game of her fourth-round match against Linda Noskova, Svitolina felt a shooting pain in her back and tearfully retired two games later. 

She opted out of last week's Qatar TotalEnergies Open to give herself more time to heal, but couldn't resist a return to Dubai, where she is a two-time champion. 

So far so good. Svitolina has not lost a set in Dubai, notching wins over Anhelina Kalinina and Tatjana Maria. She now has 19 wins in her career in Dubai, tying Venus Williams for the fourth-most in tournament history. In fact, she has the chance to own that record outright this week if she can overtake Caroline Wozniacki's tournament-best mark of 22 wins.

"We're trying to take it one day at a time," Svitolina told WTA Insider after her 6-3, 6-3 win over in Dubai. "It's a mixture of feelings, to be fair. I had a good start to the season, playing great tennis, and then getting injured again. It's tough mentally. 

"Now we're trying to recover for every single match. Still pain here and there, but trying to work with my body as much as possible. I had a good training before and that's why I was able to win these two matches. But mentally it hasn't been easy for me because I had to skip the end of the last season, and then in Australia."

Skipping tournaments is a tough pill to swallow for Svitolina. The former World No.3 built her career on her physical resilience and ability to play a full schedule year after year. Since her return from maternity leave last spring, Svitolina's tennis has been resplendent, capturing a title in Strasbourg and making the Roland Garros quarterfinals and Wimbledon semifinals.

It's managing her health that's been the challenge.

"First thing in the morning, this is always the question: how do I feel and am I 100 percent or not," Svitolina said. "This is new territory for me. It's new for me to take things one day at a time because before it was go, go, go and now I have to sometimes skip some tournaments and take care of my body. 

"But I have a little child who makes me happy if I am not playing. So I try to always look on the bright side and find the positives in the tough moments."


Seeded No.15 in Dubai, Svitolina will face Swiatek for a spot in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. It will be their first meeting on a hard court, with the head-to-head level at 1-1. Svitolina won their last meeting on the grass courts at Wimbledon, where she won 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-2 en route to the semifinals.

"She's been dominating women's tennis for a few years now and improved massively on and off the court," Svitolina said. "It's going to be a big battle as it always is. 

"I have great memories from the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. She's going to be motivated to beat me this time. But I love to play these matches. Hopefully my body will allow me to play my best and I'll do everything I can to be ready for tomorrow."

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