The US Open descends upon New York on Monday bringing with it the fanfare and frenzy that only the backdrop of Flushing Meadows can provide.
The withdrawals of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka have left the women's draw wide open with a multitude of contenders hoping to not just cap off the year with a Grand Slam title but also take home the World No 1 ranking with it.
One such challenger is Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, who will be hoping to gift herself an early 23rd birthday present.
After an unremarkable run in 2016 — winning just one title at the Malaysian Open — Svitolina has made amends this year by clinching five titles, including three WTA Premier 5 titles at Dubai, Rome and Toronto.
In her victorious Canadian Open campaign, the currently fourth-ranked Ukrainian beat two-time US Open winner Venus Williams in the third round, Wimbledon 2017 champion Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-final, World No 2 Simona Halep in the semi-final and former World No 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the final.
She’s even taken down the US Open defending champion Angelique Kerber thrice this year: at Brisbane International, Dubai Tennis Championships and Fed Cup.
Current World No 1 Karolina Pliskova? Check (Italian Open, 2017).
Serena? Check (Rio Olympics 2016).
Johanna Konta? Check. (WTA Elite Trophy, 2016).
Add to that: Ana Ivanovic (French Open, 2016), Petra Kvitova (Cincinnati Masters, 2014) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (Australian Open, 2014).
She has a 11-4 win-loss ratio against the current WTA Top 20. Amongst women's singles players who have played at least 50 matches this year, she has the highest win percentage: 81.8 compared to last year's 65.
No wonder, she’s one of the favourites for this year’s US Open.
Elina Svitolina is the real deal.
But — sadly there’s always one — the 22-year-old has not been able to emulate her WTA Tour performances at the bigger stages and a question mark remains over her Grand Slams credentials.
In Australian Open, the Ukrainian was knocked out in the third round by Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. As she looked set to become the first Ukrainian woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final at Roland Garros, she suffered perhaps her most heart-breaking career defeat collapsing from 6-3, 5-1 to 6-3, 6-7, 0-6 to Romanian Simona Halep. She had previously lost to Ivanovic in the French Open quarter-finals in 2015 but her loss to Halep from the brink of victory would have hurt more due to the sheer incredulity of it.
In a tricky draw at Wimbledon, Svitolina battled through her first round against Birmingham Classic finalist Australian Ashleigh Barty before sailing past French Open 2010 winner Francesca Schiavone and German Carina Witthoft in the second and third rounds respectively. Then, she ran into Jeļena Ostapenko, who was brimming with confidence following her maiden grand slam triumph at Roland Garros, and was knocked out in straight sets.
There are no doubts about Svitolona’s ever-improving game. Her forehand may not be as impregnable as Serena’s and her groundstrokes may not be as powerful as Muguruza’s but her game is built on a solid baseline game and quick footwork. Rather than going for winners, she tries to create forced errors off her opponents’ racquets. It may not always make for the most scintillating viewing for the larger public but it is certainly effective and works for her like a charm.
This year, the World No 4 has started to complement her top-notch defense with some much needed aggression. While her strength obviously lies with the backhand, she now often employs a go-for-broke forehand return.
Problems arise for Svitolina when she can’t get in that winning first serve and she has to depend on her feeble second. Winning points behind a second serve is essential to defeating top players at Grand Slams. You don’t want your second serves to be blotted out by the returner gifting them an opportunity to break serve.
Then again, despite an impotent service and return, the World No 4 has managed to beat the three ranked above her and the numerous ranked below in the past 52 weeks.
And the US Open offers Svitolina the perfect opportunity to wrap up a successful year with a pretty little bow.
Will Svitolina cement her spot at the game's upper echelons by translating her WTA Tour brilliance into Grand Slam dominance?
Well, that ball’s in her court.
Updated Date: Aug 25, 2017 18:09 PM