US Open 2019: Elina Svitolina’s determination and discipline take her to first semi-final at Flushing Meadows

Elina Svitolina’s trump card is her discipline. It doesn’t drive crowds to the stands. It is unexciting and unadventurous. But it can be hugely effective, as the Ukranian showed during a clean 6-4, 6-4 win over Konta at the US Open quarterfinals.

Deepti Patwardhan September 04, 2019 12:13:05 IST
US Open 2019: Elina Svitolina’s determination and discipline take her to first semi-final at Flushing Meadows
  • Elina Svitolina beat Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-4 in the quarter-final of US Open

  • Even though she’s ranked No 5 in the world, Svitolina usually flies under the radar. Like her game, she’s understated.

  • Svitolina became the first Ukrainian to enter the US Open semi-final

Elina Svitolina’s trump card is her discipline. It doesn’t drive crowds to the stands, and it certainly didn’t when she played Johanna Konta at the US Open 2019, Elina Svitolina, Johanna Konta, US Open Quarter-final, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Tennis, Sports on a Tuesday morning. It is unexciting and unadventurous. But it can be hugely effective, as the Ukranian showed during a clean 6-4, 6-4 win over Konta at the US Open quarterfinals.

US Open 2019 Elina Svitolinas determination and discipline take her to first semifinal at Flushing Meadows

Elina Svitolina reacts after defeating Johanna Konta in US Open quarter-final. AP

“I do feel that was probably the best I felt her play against me,” said Konta, who is now 0-4 in career meetings against the Svitolina. “Actually, I didn’t play badly. I felt like I was doing a lot of good things out there, a lot of the right things. But she just made me play that extra ball.”

Even though she’s ranked No 5 in the world, Svitolina usually flies under the radar. Like her game, she’s understated. But the 24-year-old, who became the first Ukrainian to enter the US Open semi-final on Tuesday, has been overcoming a few hurdles of her own in recent months. Her loss to Naomi Osaka in the quarter-final of the Australian Open earlier this year was her fourth straight defeat at that stage in Grand Slams. But Svitolina has battled through that mental barrier and followed up a semi-final finish at Wimbledon by making the last four at the year’s last Slam.

“It's been tough and painful losses sometimes, but I think they gave me this push, this confidence and maybe helped me in some matches,” Svitolina said. “Mentally I'm handling the pressure points better. I think all my career I have been going step by step. I was going very slowly. Still, I was quite consistent.”

This infinitesimal progress, of working hard, and harder, to keep the ball between the lines, has brought her all the way to a major semi-final. Svitolina is now the highest remaining seed in the women’s field and is the only one to have progressed so far without dropping a set. A defensive dynamo, Svitolina will also be happy to be on the winning side of the longest rally of the tournament so far — 40 shots against Whitney Osuigwe in the first round.

Going into the match, the Ukrainian knew she had to be consistent — another unglamorous word —against Konta, who packs quite a punch in those groundstrokes. Even though the 28-year-old Brit was quick out of the gates, Svitolina wasn’t quite floored by her pace and power. She returned well to keep the ball into play and started engaging Konta into longer rallies.

With only a sparse crowd in attendance at USTA’s center court, things started heating up in the fifth game of the opening set. Svitolina won a 14-shot rally as Konta sprayed a forehand long. Even though the Ukrainian lost the next big tussle – Konta winning a 17-shot rally with a short forehand down the line—Svitolina had the Brit playing on her terms. Konta likes to keep the points short and blast off winners at the first given opportunity. But Svitolina wasn’t giving her much to work with. She broke through Konta’s defences and her serve to go 3-2 up in the set.

But the Brit, determined to play with more guile today, stood her ground in the next game. She started the sixth game with a backhand down the line winner and set up a break point with a surprising drop shot. Konta got her break back, only to see Svitolina surge ahead in the next game. The fifth seed won a 16-shot rally to win a break point and opened up a 4-3 lead with an angled backhand pass.

Towards the end of the set, Svitolina had started anticipating Konta’s attempts and drop shots and forays to the net. The Brit found some degree of success, winning 11 of her 16 net points, but she couldn’t control a short forehand, slicing it long to hand Svitolina the first set.

The second set followed the exact same script, with the players exchanging breaks in the fifth and sixth games before Svitolina pulled ahead with another break in the seventh. Even though Konta tried to hang in with Svitolina, and pulled off some stunning winners, the error count had started creeping up. The Brit would ultimately finish with 35 unforced errors, 20 of them in the second set.

Like most facets of her game, Svitolina’s serve is solid if not overwhelming. She used it well to stave off any further bursts of aggression from Konta. The Brit saved two match points, in the ninth game, on her serve but couldn’t stop Svitolina from surging into the semis.

The last game put the match in a nutshell. While Konta started with a too-hot-to-handle forehand, she made a return error and netted a forehand to fall behind. A tentative attempt at a drop shot from Konta, saw the ball drop short to Svitolina’s backhand. The Ukrainian, whose backhand is a lot more solid, whacked a cross court pass on the run to earn match point. A backhand miss from Konta then saw Svitolina convert her third match point and raise her arms in celebration.

“For all the Ukrainians it is not so easy when you are growing up, you don't have much opportunity to travel,” said Svitolina, who made only 13 unforced errors through the two sets. “That's why we are so determined when we get them.”

Svitolina’s determination and discipline, though, will be thoroughly tested on Thursday, as she takes on 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the semi-finals.

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