Elina Svitolina attempts to avoid a third consecutive loss to Sofia Kenin when the pair clash for a place in…
Elina Svitolina attempts to avoid a third consecutive loss to Sofia Kenin when the pair clash for a place in the China Open quarter-finals in Beijing on Wednesday.
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Still on the hunt for a spot in the WTA Finals – a title she’s defending if she does indeed qualify – Elina Svitolina has a tough test on her hands in the China Open R16 against the rising Sofia Kenin on Wednesday.
A semi-finalist in Beijing three years ago, Svitolina is two wins away from matching that performance after a pair of tight victories already this week. First up for the Ukrainian was Chinese wildcard Wang Xinyu, with Svitolina coming back from a set down to ultimately run away with the match 6-7(4) 6-1 6-2, while she battled past Anastasija Sevastova in two tiebreaks on Tuesday to earn a place in the third round.
After barely qualifying for the WTA Finals in Singapore last year after a tough end to the regular season, Svitolina stepped it up big time as she produced some of the best tennis of her career, posting five top 10 wins on the trot over Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki, Kiki Bertens and Sloane Stephens to win the biggest title of her career and ending the year at No. 4 in the world. Svitolina is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, but 2019 has been an up and down season – she’s been struck down by a knee injury at various stages of the year and is yet to win a title, but on the other hand she’s advanced to two Grand Slam semi-finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Svitolina finds herself in a similar position this season – she’s currently eighth in the Race to Shenzhen and it’s fairly paramount that she qualifies in order to give herself a chance to defend the truckload of points that came with winning the 2018 tournament. As mentioned, the 25-year-old has been struggling with a knee injury for most of the year and it caused her to withdraw from Guangzhou a couple of weeks ago, but she did beat Garbine Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova to make the Wuhan quarter-finals last week, where she was easily beaten by Alison Riske. Can Svitolina make another quarter-final in Beijing on Wednesday and boost her WTA Finals in the process?
The in-form Sofia Kenin stands in her way. The American began her campaign with a topsy-turvy win over former World No. 1 Garbine Muguruza, winning the first six games and last six games of the match for a 6-0 2-6 6-2 victory, but she had a much smoother time of things in the second round, easing past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova by a 6-3 6-2 scoreline.
Kenin made two semi-finals in Mallorca and Quebec City last year, along with representing USA in the Fed Cup final, to finish the season just outside the top 50, but she’s taken her game to another level in 2019, winning her maiden WTA title in Hobart and pushing Simona Halep all the way at the Australian Open, before going on to quickly make her second WTA final in Acapulco, beating Victoria Azarenka and Bianca Andreescu along the way, but this time she went down to Wang Yafan in the title match. Kenin would have been disappointed with early exits in Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid, but to be fair, she lost to Elina Svitolina, Andreescu and Petra Kvitova in those tournaments, while in three of her next four tournaments, the American was knocked out by top 10 players, which proves it’s taking the very best to beat her these days.
Kenin went on to secure the biggest win of her career as she beat Serena Williams to make the fourth round of the French Open, where she went down in three sets to eventual champion Ashleigh Barty, and not long after she captured her second title of the year, beating Belinda Bencic for the Mallorca Open silverware. The 20-year-old then reached back-to-back semi-finals at the Rogers Cup and Western & Southern Open, earning a total of four top 10 wins in those tournaments over Barty, Svitolina (twice), Naomi Osaka, while she won her third career title a couple of weeks ago in Guangzhou to rise to a career-high No. 16 in the world.
Looking to finish the season on a high over the coming weeks, can Kenin secure a third straight win over Svitolina in Beijing? For me, she’s the favourite. Svitolina hasn’t been entirely convincing this Asian swing, while Kenin has proven she has the tools to beat the World No. 3 over the last two months. Svitolina will need to raise her level considerably to win this one.