CINCINNATI, OH, USA - No.5 seed Elina Svitolina weathered a tough challenge from the resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova to edge through her opening match at the Western & Southern Open in three sets, 7-6(1), 4-6, 6-4.
“It was a really tough match, but I was expecting this because Svetlana is confident after winning in Washington DC,” Svitolina said in a post-match interview. “It’s definitely nice to see her back after injury. We always have tough battles - today was just one more.”
Svitolina came into the tournament with a stellar 21-5 record on hard-court this year - second behind only World No.1 Simona Halep - and fresh off a semifinal finish last week in Montreal.
And the Russian is in full comeback mode after having to sit out most of the start of the season following wrist surgery, and capped off her return with an 18th career title in Washington DC - earning the former US Open champion a wildcard into the last Grand Slam of the year in the process.
The opening set was a very up and down affair, but it didn’t start out that way as Svitolina grabbed an early break to lead 4-1. The Russian fought her way back in it, grabbing the break back to level at 4-4, and then the pair wrestled for the momentum in the four straight breaks that followed.
Kuznetsova held a set point at 7-5, but double faulted way her chance to close it out and the pair marched into a tiebreaker. Svitolina found another gear, retrieving every ball and smothering Kuznetsova’s attack to steal the opening set.
She was leading in the second set too, up a break at 2-0, when Kuznetsova started mounting her comeback. Another rollercoaster set saw Kuznetsova pull ahead this time, edging ahead with a late break to send them into a decider.
The same pattern threatened to emerge in the final set; Svitolina got ahead an early break, leading 2-0, and then Kuznetsova started to turn up the heat. But this time after four straight breaks of serve it was Svitolina that held onto her lead, closing out the match after a hard-fought two hours and 43 minutes.
Up next, Svitolina will face either Petra Martic or on-the-rise American Amanda Anisimova in the third round.
“I saw a few of Anisimova’s matches when she played in Indian Wells, so I know about about the game style of hers,” Svitolina said. “She’s hitting the ball very hard, I’ll have to be ready for it. And Martic, we’ve played a couple of times. I think the last time was in Rome.
“It’s two different players, two different game styles - we’ll see who wins and I’ll just be ready for her.”