Svitolina did not know a few days ago what result she would need in Moscow in order to secure qualification for the WTA Finals Shenzhen, but she no longer needs to worry about that, having officially become the seventh player to qualify for the season-ending championships on Monday and leaving Kiki Bertens and Belinda Bencic to battle for the last spot in the bottom half of the draw.
It would have been a major blow for Svitolina, who captured the WTA Finals title last year in Singapore, to be unable to qualify among the ‘elite eight’ this year – and with the tournament moving a week later in the calendar, she can concentrate on her campaign in Moscow without having to worry about making too hurried a transition back to China.
Given the knee injury Svitolina has had to contend with in 2019, which she felt as far back as February and which kept her off court from Miami in March until Madrid in May – and no doubt severely impacted her performance during the clay-court season, usually such a strong part of the year for her – in addition to flaring up recently and leading to a withdrawal in Guangzhou, it’s pretty impressive that she has qualified for Shenzhen. But there is one fairly significant gap in her 2019 resume, which otherwise includes first Grand Slam semifinal appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open: After having reached three or more WTA Tour finals in each of the past three seasons, and winning multiple titles in 2017 and 2018, Svitolina has yet to win a title or even reach a final in 2019.
That’s three titles Svitolina has failed to defend in 2019 so far – Brisbane, Dubai and Rome – and the 25-year-old Ukrainian only has two more events left at which she can claim a trophy, this week’s Kremlin Cup and the WTA Finals Shenzhen.
Svitolina has made the quarterfinals of three of the four events she’s played since the US Open and reached the semifinals of the Kremlin Cup last time she played the tournament in 2016, so there’s some reason to expect a solid performance, but she doesn’t have the easiest opening opponent in Veronika Kudermetova.
Kudermetova booked her place in the second round of the Kremlin Cup with a straight-sets victory over Ons Jabeur, her first main-draw win in Moscow after unsuccessfully attempting to qualify in 2016 and 2018. The 22-year-old Russian, who was born in Kazan but lives in Moscow, is playing her last event of what has been a breakthrough season which began in Shenzhen in January when she qualified for the main draw before reaching the quarterfinals.
Ranked world no. 133 in January, Kudermetova comes into Moscow as a top-50 player, having earned her current and career-high ranking of world no. 42 after winning the WTA 125k title in Guadalajara in March and reaching WTA Tour semifinals at International-level events in Hiroshima and Tianjin during a good Asian swing.
Kudermetova also reached the third round of the French Open (beating Caroline Wozniacki in the first round), quarterfinals in Shenzhen, Nurnberg, Lugano and Istanbul and made the last 16 at the Wuhan Open, where she beat Belinda Bencic, compiling a 47-25 win-loss record in 2019.
The Russian was particularly effective on both her own first serve and her opponent’s as she faced Jabeur, winning 27 of 32 points (84%) when she got her first serve in but also claiming 46% of points when Jabeur landed her first delivery, which speaks volumes about how well she was doing in returning aggressively and putting Jabeur on the back foot straight away. This could also be a key battleground against Svitolina.
Svitolina and Kudermetova have never met before, and this is just the third time Kudermetova has faced a player ranked inside the top 10, having been beaten by Karolina Pliskova in Stuttgart last year in straight sets but coming back from a set down to beat Bencic in three in Wuhan just a couple of weeks ago. I’ve felt for a while that Svitolina is struggling to manage that knee and is, perhaps, playing when she should be resting it, and with her place in Shenzhen now secure, I wonder if she might not quite give it everything she has if that knee is a concern. Kudermetova’s aggressive returning and current fine form could be a tough combination for Svitolina to deal with, and this part of the season does throw up some upsets; it would not be a surprise for Kudermetova to, at the least, push the world no. 4 to a third set in Moscow.
Svitolina vs Kudermetova Kremlin Cup tennis is live from Moscow on Wednesday at 12.30pm local/10.30am BST
Svitolina vs Kudermetova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – In-form Kudermetova looking for second top-10 win of 2019 in Moscow
World no. 4 Elina Svitolina plays her first Kremlin Cup match for three years and is up against rising Russian…
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