Elina Svitolina has been battling knee pain in recent weeks as she tries to secure her WTA Finals spot, but is 2018 China Open runner-up Anastasija Sevastova in the kind of form to secure the upset in Beijing?
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World no. 3 Elina Svitolina faces a challenging beginning to her China Open campaign as she takes on 2018 runner-up Anastasija Sevastova in the first round on Sunday.
It’s an extremely tough draw for Svitolina, who is still looking to confirm qualification for the WTA Finals Shenzhen: The Ukrainian is in ninth place in the official rankings, eighth place in the ‘live’ rankings, and while with Serena Williams not playing that’s a qualifying position, Kiki Bertens trails her by less than 200 points (and Bertens has already secured her place in the second round in Beijing, beating Donna Vekic in three sets on Saturday).
One suspects, or perhaps hopes, that if it wasn’t for needing to qualify for the WTA Finals – which Svitolina, of course, won in 2018 and at which she therefore has a tremendous amount of points to defend – the Ukrainian might not be playing such a heavy schedule during the Asian swing so far. The very next week after reaching the US Open semifinals, Svitolina was playing in Zhengzhou, beating Yulia Putintseva before being beaten by Kristina Mladenovic; she played the following week in Guangzhou, where she retired with knee pain against Marie Bouzkova in the second round. But the knee pain didn’t stop her from playing in Wuhan last week, albeit with her knee strapped, or from recording two very good victories over Garbine Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova before losing to eventual runner-up Alison Riske 1-6, 3-6 in the quarterfinals.
Svitolina has already lost a large swathe of her season to knee pain – although the problem only kept her off court from Miami, where she lost in the second round to Wang Yafan, until Madrid, it still contributed massively to the Ukrainian going 2-3 on European clay, which has been such a strong part of her season over the past few years – but it’s to be hoped she’s not pushing herself too hard in a bid to qualify for Shenzhen, because she has had a very good season even if it so far hasn’t included winning a title, with the highlights, of course, her run to the semifinals of Wimbledon and the US Open.
A semifinalist in Beijing in 2016 and a quarterfinalist in 2017, Svitolina lost her opening match at the China Open last year to Aleksandra Krunic despite having bagelled the Serbian player in the opening set. Can she do better in 2019?
World no. 19 Anastasija Sevastova might have something to say about that, as the Latvian returns to the tournament where she made her biggest career final 12 months ago.
Sevastova, now 29, briefly retired from the sport a few years ago to pursue leisure management but after deciding to give it another go has had the best results of her career in the past few years, winning titles in Mallorca (2017), Bucharest (2018) and Jurmala (2019), and making back-to-back US Open quarterfinals in 2016-17 before reaching the first Grand Slam semifinal of her career at the same tournament in 2018, defeating Svitolina herself on the way.
Sevastova followed that US Open semifinal run by beating Naomi Osaka, Donna Vekic and Dominika Cibulkova on her way to the China Open final, the biggest she had ever reached by some margin, where she finished runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki, and reached a career-high ranking of world no. 11 as a result.
The Latvian’s 2019 season has by no means been bad, but it hasn’t been anywhere near as good as 2018, and she comes into the China Open ranked world no. 19 (and perhaps facing a further descent). Sevastova made the last 16 at the Australian Open and French Open this year, won her fourth WTA Tour career title in Jurmala and made the semifinals of Mallorca, but she was unable to defend her US Open semifinal points, losing in the third round to Petra Martic. Sevastova’s whole US Open swing was underwhelming, in fact, with defeats to Zhang Shuai in Toronto and Svetlana Kuznetsova in Cincinnati, and her Asian swing hasn’t started well either, as she lost to qualifier Christina McHale (currently ranked outside the top 100) in three sets in Wuhan last week.
Perhaps most damningly, after going 4-5 vs top-10 players in 2018, Sevastova has lost all four of the matches she’s played against top-10 players in 2019, although this will be the first time she’s faced one since Madrid in May. Her last win against a top-10 opponent came against Osaka in last year’s Beijing semifinals, and she’s on a five-match losing streak since then – can she turn it around against Svitolina?
I’d say it’s not impossible: Sevastova has beaten Svitolina before, doing so at the US Open in 2018 in three sets although the Ukrainian did win their only previous encounter (six years ago before Sevastova’s career hiatus, when Svitolina would have been very young). The Latvian’s all-court blend is not necessarily a bad match-up for Svitolina’s counterpunching: Sevastova is a very good defender, but also has plenty of aggressive tools, and an exceptional line in drop shots as anyone who has ever watched her will know, while Svitolina’s knees are a source of concern. If Sevastova had any recent form to draw on, I’d predict the upset as very possible. As it is, I think the 2018 finalist will feel the pressure of trying to defend those points in Beijing, and the third seed will come through.
Svitolina vs Sevastova China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Sunday at 3.30pm local/8.30am BST
Svitolina vs Sevastova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Svitolina opens against 2018 runner-up Sevastova in Beijing
Elina Svitolina has been battling knee pain in recent weeks as she tries to secure her WTA Finals spot, but…
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