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Elina Svitolina vs Petra Martic WTA Rome tennis live: Fourth seed Svitolina faces tough start to Internazionali BNL d’Italia title defense

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 15 May 2018
  • Defending champion Elina Svitolina faces Petra Martic in the second round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia
  • Svitolina vs Martic Internazionali BNL d'Italia tennis is live from Rome on Tuesday at 3pm local/2pm BST
Elina Svitolina (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Elina Svitolina begins her Internazionali BNL d’Italia title defense as she takes on resurgent Croatian Petra Martic on Tuesday.

The defending champion in Rome, world no. 4 Elina Svitolina starts her quest to win back-to-back titles against Petra Martic, who has beaten her on clay before, in Tuesday’s second-round match. 

Already a champion at the Brisbane International in January and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Feburary, both held on hard courts, Svitolina is attempting to become the fourth active player after Jelena Jankovic (2007-8), Maria Sharapova (2011-12) and Serena Williams (2013-14) to win back-to-back titles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

Of the five titles Svitolina won in 2017, her triumph in Rome was perhaps most significant; she had already won one Premier-5 title in Dubai, but had to face more tough opponents in Rome, where she defeated top-10 players Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final respectively. Although injury for Halep contributed to the Ukrainian’s victory in the final, Svitolina proved it wasn’t entirely a fluke when she built a commanding lead on Halep in the quarterfinals of the French Open – although she ulitimately lost in three sets.

Svitolina ended 2017 with five titles in total, picking up trophies in Taipei City, Dubai, Toronto and Istanbul as well as Rome, having made her second Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open, the second weeks of Wimbledon and the US Open and having qualified for the WTA Finals Singapore. It was a spectacular season and raised expectations sky-high ahead of 2018 – but tennis is all about recent results and all about expectation, and so far Svitolina hasn’t really kicked on to the next level this season. Successfully defending her title in Dubai, Svitolina also won the Brisbane International, a Premier-level event, to start the season and made her third Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open. But the wait for her to make a big impression at Premier Mandatory level still goes on, with the Ukrainian losing to Carla Suarez Navarro in the round of 16 at Indian Wells and ousted by Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals at Miami. 

Clay season looked the likeliest time of year for Svitolina to really make an impression, but so far it hasn’t gone too well for her; she beat Marketa Vondrousova (by retirement) in Stuttgart but lost for the third straight time to Caroline Garcia in the quarterfinals, and in Madrid she was halfway to backing up a first-round win over Alize Cornet before letting victory slip through her fingers and exiting in three sets at the hands of Carla Suarez Navarro.

While Daria Kasakina and either Karolina Pliskova or Angelique Kerber are among potential opponents Svitolina could face, the Ukrainian’s draw at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia is not bad at all compared to some other sections of the field. But she’ll have to get past Petra Martic if she is to take advantage of it. 

Martic is one of a slew of players who have made very successful comebacks on the WTA Tour over the past 12 months or so. A top-50 player back in 2012, the year she made her first WTA final in Kuala Lumpur, reached the Copenhagen semifinals and made a memorable run to the round of 16 at the French Open, Martic reached a career-high ranking of world no. 42 as a result of that run, but she struggled to back it up, crashing back out of the top 100 by next April and unable to get back in that season (despite making the third round of Wimbledon with a win over Karolina Pliskova). 

Martic’s main problem was a series of injuries that, season after season, saw her sliding further down the rankings. She made her first WTA semifinal since 2012 at Rio de Janeiro in February 2016 and there were signs that she was getting back on track, but a back injury intervened and Martic was unable to play from Wimbledon 2016 to April 2017 – an absence from competition of ten months, as a result of which her ranking slid to world no. 659. 

In the space of four tournaments, Martic managed to make her way up the rankings to world no. 290 and used her protected ranking to enter qualifying at the French Open, playing her way into the main draw and all the way to the round of 16 with wins over Madison Keys and Anastasija Sevastova before being stopped short by Svitolina. She then repeated the feat at Wimbledon, making the round of 16 as a qualifier, and although she only played a handful of matches after that in 2017 nevertheless ended the year at world no. 90. 

Martic’s climb has only continued in 2018 to the extent that she’s already inside the top 40 after four and a half months of the season. The Croatian made the fourth round of the Australian Open before losing to Elise Mertens and recorded quarterfinal appearances at Budapest and Indian Wells (where she beat Ostapenko), as well as making the third round of Miami – but she hasn’t won back-to-back matches on clay so far in 2018. Ousted by Kirsten Flipkens in the first round of Rabat, she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in Madrid before falling to Caroline Garcia – although she was very close to taking the in-form seventh seed to a third set.

Martic’s game is effective on all surfaces but it seems quite tailor-made for clay, and she is a very dangerous opponent for Svitolina in Rome – of their three previous matches, two went to three sets and Svitolina and Martic have won one each (the third was a retirement from Martic after less than a set). Martic’s win came all the way back in Katowice in 2013, but she pushed Svitolina to 7-5 in the third at the French Open – when Svitolina was playing tremendously well – just last year. Based on what I saw from Svitolina against Carla Suarez Navarro in Madrid, Martic could very well do it again and Svitolina must raise her game to keep her Internazionali BNL d’Italia title defense alive. 

Svitolina vs Martic Internazionali BNL d’Italia tennis is live from Rome on Tuesday at 3pm local/2pm BST

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Elina Svitolina vs Petra Martic WTA Rome tennis live: Fourth seed Svitolina faces tough start to Internazionali BNL d’Italia title defense

Petra Martic pushed Elina Svitolina all the way at the French Open last year – can she end the fourth seed’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia title defense as it begins? WTA Rome tennis live from Rome

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