Is 2018 finally Svitolina’s time?

Maddy Friend Columnist

By Maddy Friend, Maddy Friend is a Roar Expert

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    In 2017, a season that was the most open and even on the WTA tour for many, many years, Elina Svitolina won five titles.

    Five, three of which were premier-level tournaments. Two of those were victories over Caroline Wozniacki, and one, at the Italian Open, was against current world number one Simona Halep.

    It’s hard to explain how difficult winning five titles in a season is – particularly in a season as even as 2017. These wins elevated her to #6 in the world, behind Halep and Karolina Pliskova.

    It was a breakout season for Svitolina, and for much of the year, she was the most consistent player on tour.

    Blessed with explosive speed and excellent athletic prowess, Svitolina’s backhand is a thing of beauty, a rare quality for the two-handed variety. When she’s on song, combined with an improved temperament and determination, she is one of the best players on tour to watch.

    However, despite her title victories, Svitolina was, in a way, a victim of the competition being so even. Two of the four Grand Slams, Roland Garros and the US Open, were won by first-time Slam winners (for Ostapenko, who won Roland Garros, it was her first title of any sort at the highest level). Players such as Halep, Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza, Kristina Mladenovic, Caroline Garcia and Caroline Wozniacki also won tournaments.

    In most years, form such as Svitolina displayed would have won her far more tournaments and accolades; however, such was the even form displayed across the competition last year that Svitolina was unable to capitalise on her form in the biggest tournaments.

    Her Grand Slam form was middling, with a quarter final berth at Roland Garros the best result, with the other three tournaments yielding only third and fourth round appearances, and she didn’t have great success at the end-of-season finals, losing two of her three round-robin matches.

    Elina Svitolina

    (Wikimedia Commons)

    Grand Slams have never been happy hunting grounds for Svitolina – she has twice made the quarter finals at Roland Garros, but otherwise hasn’t been past the fourth round. Perhaps the pressure was a factor – she was consistently touted as a Grand Slam favourite throughout the season, and at times looked like the pressure of the occasion got to her.

    This was clearly evident at Roland Garros, where, after leading one set and 5-1 in the second, she lost the match to Halep in devastating fashion. For the past two seasons, she’s been one of the front runners in the ‘best player to have never won a Grand Slam’ category.

    While Halep and Pliskova were arguably the players who carried the highest weight of expectation on them into the season, they were, unlike Svitolina, able to find their way to finals and semi-finals of Grand Slam tournaments.

    However, Pliskova and Halep had had excellent seasons in 2016, with Pliskova making her first Slam final at the US Open, and Halep having had consistent seasons over the preceding several years.

    Svitolina is several years younger than her compatriots, and at 23 and after an excellent season, she could be ready to put it all together on the biggest stage. At the time of writing, Svitolina won the Brisbane International final, an event where she made the semi-finals last year.

    That didn’t exactly set her up for success, as she only made the third round of the Australian Open the following week, but her form in the early part of 2018 has built on where she left off last season.

    With her talent, it’s always been a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’, she will win a Grand Slam. With 2018 looking likely to be as even and open as 2017, perhaps it will be this year.

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