DOHA, Qatar - No.4 seed Elina Svitolina has made a winning start to her Qatar Total Open campaign, winning her second-round tilt with Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 20 minutes.
The WTA Finals champion avenged two previous losses to Ostapenko in which she had failed to win a set, in the fourth round of Wimbledon 2017 and in last year's Miami quarterfinals. Today, though, playing for the first time since losing to Naomi Osaka in the last eight of the Australian Open, Svitolina withstood some marvelous hitting to emerge as the superior match player.
"I think I was striking the ball really good, and serving much better than I did in the previous matches against her," assessed Svitolina of her performance afterwards. "The ball is flying and the wind is very tricky, so I had to be extremely quick with my feet. In the end I was very pleased that I could finish in two sets."
Not everything has been smooth for Svitolina since Melbourne, though. Last year's Dubai champion revealed that she has had some physical issues recently - though they are under control.
"I have been struggling since Australian Open with my neck," she told the press. "I mean, it's tough to say, because every day is changing. It depends... on the practice, on the match, what I have, so it's tough to tell how I'm going to feel tomorrow, but every single day I try to get a treatment, I try to get some work done, and, you know, it's just a process."
As is often the case with Ostapenko, there were periods during the match in which her ballstriking was breathtaking. The Latvian launched herself into her forehand with gusto from the very first point, and was irresistible as she hit through Svitolina's defence to come back from 1-4 to 4-4 in the first set.
But despite these moments in which she was blown off the court, Svitolina rarely lost control of the scoreboard - and was razor-sharp in sensing when she had to up her own aggression. The 24-year-old captured her first break point of each set by going for big returns that set up backhand putaways - while coming up with efficient one-two punches to save three break-back points to go up 3-0 in the first set.
The backhand would also come in handy as Svitolina asserted herself in the second set, with consecutive winners off that wing - two out of 21 in total today - capturing the break for a 5-3 lead.
By contrast, despite a ratio of 24 winners to 26 unforced errors, Ostapenko would repeatedly find herself unable to close out games in which she had taken the lead with fine play. Two 0-30 leads on Svitolina's first two service games both went begging, and the 2017 Roland Garros champion was only able to convert three out of five break points.
In both sets, Ostapenko was able to recover from a break down - but could not sustain her momentum to capture either. At 4-4 in the first, the 21-year-old lapsed once again into error to lose eight of the last nine points of the set; and, having broken Svitolina as the Ukrainian served for the match, promptly spurned two points to level the score at 5-5 to lose her own serve from 40-15 up, sending a backhand into the net on Svitolina's first match point.
The four-time major quarterfinalist will now face qualifier Karolina Muchova in a bid to make her first semifinal of 2019. The Czech World No.132 backed up her first-round defeat of Samantha Stosur with a 6-2, 6-4 upset of Hsieh Su-Wei to reach her maiden WTA quarterfinal.
"I know very little about her, but I know she can play really good tennis - she's been beating a few good players," mused Svitolina about Muchova, who upset Garbiñe Muguruza in the second round of last year's US Open. "The only thing I can say is I'm going to try to prepare as well as I can. And tomorrow it's very important for me to play well, and I will try to do my best to execute this."