Elina Svitolina has achieved one miracle in Auckland – now she has to wait and see if she can manage another.
The second seed looked on the brink of elimination in Saturday’s WTA Auckland Classic semifinal against Xiyu Wang, admitting that she had considering retiring after the first set.
But she found something – helped by the support of a capacity crowd - for a remarkable comeback 2-6 6-4 6-3 victory. It was an amazing effort, across another 140-minute marathon, in a week where she has spent more than eight hours on court.
But can she back it up, in Sunday’s final against world No 3 Coco Gauff?
“I’m taking every hour as a bonus right now,” said a weary Svitolina on Saturday night.
“We will do everything possible. I’m excited for that match against Coco, the priority is my health. My physio has a lot to do and we will see how it goes. I don’t want to predict anything about [Sunday]. [On Saturday] I left everything on the court, I played like there was no tomorrow, just tried to be really locked into the match.”
Svitolina had pain “here and there” but didn’t want to go into details, though it is believed to be a hip problem.
The Ukraine player has shown her fighting qualities across the week, especially in the epic battle with Emma Raducanu, where she was 5-1 down in the first set then two points from defeat in the second. But Saturday was a new level. She looked immobile in the latter stages of the first set, unable to run properly or generate power and often resorting to slicing the ball back. “Physically it was really tough for me, I was trying to push myself,” said Svitolina.
“One of the factors was that there were so many people and everyone was cheering, it was really tough to not try and it really pushed me to fight, stay in the match and try to hit one extra ball at the net.”
After a massage on court, Svitolina took a medical timeout towards the end of the first set. “I got taped and then it took me some time to get used to it.
“The crowd really pushed me to come back and a lot of people [watching] in Ukraine. I was really sad that I couldn’t perform my best in the first set so I decided to try and play the first couple of games [in the second set], take one point at a time and then see.”
Svitolina gradually gained some momentum – though it was still tight – before reaching a new level in the final set, despite running on fumes. Whatever happens on Sunday, it’s been a special week for Svitolina.
The world No 25 arrived with no expectation – to a city she had never visited before, after some gentle persuasion from husband Gael Monfils. They have had a great time as a family – with daughter Skai in tow – and she has played a couple of matches she will always remember. “I heard many nice things about Auckland but somehow never came here before,” said Svitolina.
“I’m happy that Gael convinced me to come here and everything worked out quite well, enjoyable moment for us to start the year together couldn’t be better.” Gauff will be a heavy favourite on Sunday.
She is in top form and has averaged just over an hour on court per match, around half of Svitolina’s exertions. “It’s good to be in the final, said Svitolina. “It was really unexpected from the beginning. I had some tough matches, I’m happy I am through but it took a lot out of my body.”
Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics’, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns. A football aficionado, Burgess will never forget the noise that greeted Rory Fallon’s goal against Bahrain in Wellington in 2009.
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