Sunday, October 28, 2018

Elina Svitolina finishes her Singapore tear appropriately--with a trophy


It was the "perfect" final: Both players had gone undefeated in round robin play in their respective groups--Sloane Stephens in the red group, and Elina Svitolina in the white group. This is a rare scenario for the WTA Finals. Stephens had defeated top seed Angie Kerber, Naomi Osaka and Kiki Bertens, while Svitolina had wins over defending champion Carolina Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova.

In the semifinals, Stephens staged a stunning come-from-behind (she lost the first set 0-6) victory over Pliskova, and Svitolina (who also needed three sets) defeated Bertens.

It was only fitting that the final went three sets. Stephens, with her consistent spin and sometimes-lethal forehand, dominated the first set, winning it 6-3. But a determined Svitolina took charge in the second set, taking more risks, and earning a 6-2 victory.

The third set was a continuation of Svitolina's momentum. She went up 3-0, but then Stephens held at love, announcing another potential comeback. That announcement got louder when Stephens turned right around and broke Svitolina at 15. But the momentum swung again, as the Ukrainian moved to 5-2, then broke Stephens to win the WTA Finals.

Elina Svitolina has a deadly record in finals, having now won 13 out of 15. She has, however, underperformed repeatedly at majors, creating one of the more unusual player scenarios in recent history. But today's victory made me think of Amelie Mauresmo's 2005 title run at the WTA Finals. The following year, the talented but "not quite there" Frenchwoman won two majors.

Svitolina's amazing speed and shot-making got her into the top 10. This week, we saw the champion bring something new--an excellent serve. With those three factors--and the grit we often see from her--the Ukrainian star has nowhere to go but up.

2nd seeds Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic won the doubles title, defeating top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 6-4, 7-5. Babos was the defending champion; she and Andrea Sestini Hlavackova won the title in 2017. Krejcikova and Siniakova, who won both the French Open and Wimbledon this year, had played Babos and Mladenovic only once before, and lost that match, also.

Babos and Mladenovic, who won three titles (including Singapore) this year, bring an unusual strength to their team--both members have very good serves (on a good day, they have outstanding serves).

Krejcikova and Siniakoa finish 2018 as the top-ranked doubles team in the world.

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