INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - No.6 seed Elina Svitolina was pushed to the limit by an inspired Sofia Kenin, but emerged victorious in three sets to reach the BNP Paribas Open third round.
Her opponent came into the tournament fresh off of reaching the final at the Abierto Mexicano in Acapulco last week. Kenin even got the chance to avenge her loss straightaway in her Indian Wells opener, coming back from a set down against Acapulco winner Wang Yafan, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, to bring up the Svitolina clash.
Svitolina, on the other hand, was carrying her torrid momentum from the Middle East swing after reaching back-to-back semifinals in Doha and Dubai. She found herself having to come back from a set down against the Russian-born American Kenin on a chilly evening in Indian Wells, but got the job done after a 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 battle in two hours and 21 minutes.
“I think it was a really tough match for second round, but in the end the win is all that matters,” Svitolina told press after the match. “I’m happy that I could keep fighting and serve it out in the third set. It was also a good match for me overall.”
Kenin set the tone early on, hitting her backhand well and mixing up the rhythm. She was rewarded with an early break to lead 2-0, though Svitolina got it back right away to make it 2-2.
The Russian-born American was relentless, putting Svitolina under pressure throughout before finally breaking through once again at 4-2 and keeping her nose in front to take the opening set.
The second set was a marathon affair - it was 67 minutes on its own, more than double the length of the half-hour first set. Svitolina and Kenin were deadlocked, and both had chances to take a lead.
First it was Kenin that held four break points in a ten-minute game for 4-3, Svitolina’s serve under attack, but she let them slip by as her opponent forced the errors. Then it was Svitolina in the next game with pair of break chances of her own, but he American batted them away to make it 4-4. They stayed toe-to-toe until the tiebreaker, where Svitolina finally earned two mini-breaks to edge through with the second set.
Svitolina changed up her game plan heading into the final set, and directed more balls to Kenin’s vulnerable forehand wing. The gambit worked as Kenin’s shot started to break down and leak errors, allowing Svitolina to open up a daunting 4-1, double break lead. Kenin managed to recover one of the breaks, but Svitolina had honed in on a weakness and continued to exploit it to great success, marching ahead to the finish line and serving out the match to love.
“I think in the second set I was feeling quite good in my game and my game was getting better and better. I didn’t really think about the outcome, I was just trying to fight for every point. For me, fighting was the key today.”
Svitolina racked up 40 winners and 47 unforced errors across the three sets, playing aggressive and weathering Kenin’s relentless attack as the American hit 31 winners and 39 unforced errors of her own. With nearly identical stats on serve - Svitolina won 75% of first serves, Kenin 72%, both claiming 44% of their second serves - and with both breaking serve three times, the match was decided by small margins.
Up next, Svitolina will take on Daria Gavrilova in the third round. The Russian-born Australian took down No.29 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu in a seamless two sets, 6-2, 6-2, earlier in the day.
Svitolina leads the head-to-head record over Gavrilova, 5-2, including a straight sets win here at Indian Wells in 2017.
“We played here a few years ago,” Svitolina recalled. “I don’t really know her that much, so I’m going to look at that match and see with my coach so we can prepare and be ready for it.”