DUBAI, UAE - No.6 seed Elina Svitolina is through the semifinals at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships for the fourth year in a row after defeating Carla Suárez Navarro in two hard-fought sets.
Svitolina’s victory also keeps her on the quest to win the first ever Dubai “treble”. A champion here in 2017 and 2018, Svitolina is going for historic three-in-a-row at the Emirati event.
While she wouldn’t be the first woman to lift three or more Dubai trophies - Justine Henin (2003-2004, 2006-2007) and Venus Williams (2009-2010, 2014) have already achieved the feat - should she win this tournament she would be the first to claim three in consecutive fashion.
“I tried to put it [talk of a treble] on the side,” Svitolina admitted in her post-match press conference. “Of course, it's a very nice motivation. In same time, I'm here to win as many matches as I can.
“For me every match is another story. I try to be ready for it physically and mentally, then what happen happens.”
She had her work cut out for her with Suárez Navarro across the net, who came into the match with a 4-3 lead in the pair’s head-to-head record, including winning two of their three encounters in 2018 - in the third round of Indian Wells and the second round of Madrid - while Svitolina’s most recent win came in Brisbane in January earlier that year.
Svitolina had to come back from a break down twice in the second set, but she got the job done in straight sets, needing an hour and 19 minutes to seal the 6-2, 6-3 victory.
“[I had] another good day, so I'm very pleased with the way I played today,” Svitolina said. “It was very tough. I was expecting a tough match. She made me work for every ball. In the end, I was very solid and happy the way I played.”
Svitolina seemed to have a hard time managing the pacy Suárez Navarro game during the opening exchanges, with the Spaniard’s one-handed backhand hitting through the court and her variety keeping Svitolina off of her rhythm. As a result, Svitolina spent most of her time about two meters behind the baseline and running from end to end.
However, Svitolina still met Suárez Navarro blow for blow, and she willed herself into the rallies - finally finding her rhythm to earn the break at 4-2 by outlasting the Spaniard in a grueling seven-minute game. The Ukrainian reeled off the next two games in a row to run away with the opening set after just over half an hour.
But Suárez Navarro turned the tables in the second set, finally getting the first break and quickly consolidating to a 2-0 lead. In fact, Svitolina found herself down a break twice in this set as Suárez Navarro relentlessly tried to spark a comeback - but each time Svitolina managed to outdo the Spaniard, jamming her with groundstrokes up the middle of the court and taking away her angles.
Svitolina finally claimed the decisive break at 5-3, and needed four match points to seal her passage into the Dubai semifinals.
“I'm going to give everything to play my best tennis. This matters the most for me,” Svitolina said. “I've been working on this for long time. I want to just focus on what I have to do my next match.
“Semifinal is going to be another tough one. For me, it's just important to take one match at a
time, to don't look so much ahead.”
Up next, Svitolina will face a big challenge in the next round, with the giant-killer Belinda Bencic awaiting in the semifinals. Bencic backed up her big upset over No.8 seed Aryna Sabalenka with an even bigger stunner over former World No.1 Simona Halep earlier in the day, defeating the Romanian 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
“I think they both looked little bit tired,” Svitolina said of the Halep-Bencic quarterfinal. “It was a good match anyway, they had very long rallies. It's going to be tough.
“[Bencic] deserves to be in semifinal as much as me. For sure is going to play some good tennis. I'll have to be ready for it. Yeah, just another match.”