Just like last year, defending champion Elina Svitolina finished the round-robin phase of the WTA Finals undefeated. The Ukrainian had progressed into the semis with a victory over Simona Halep on Wednesday, while on Friday she improved her Purple Group score to 3-0 by winning a thrilling two-setter against Sofia Kenin, 7-5 7-6(10).
When the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen started, the 20-year-old Kenin was the second alternate patiently waiting around, but as injuries and illness crept in on players, the American got a chance to play, entering the draw as a replacement for Bianca Andreescu.
Kenin knew that her first-ever match at the season-ending tournament couldn’t secure her a place in the semifinals, but she was determined to make the most out of the opportunity (I guess that a $305,000 prize for winning that one match was also a good motivator).
The three-time WTA titlist Kenin made a strong start with a 3-1 lead and had two break points to go a double break up. Svitolina fought back to level to 3-3, but two games later she was again trailing 5-3. Despite being in the deficit almost the entire first set, Svitolina pushed through and won all the remaining four games.
In the second set, the eighth-seeded Svitolina saved a set point in the 10th game, then sent the match to a tiebreak, which turned out to be full of drama. As the tiebreak was coming to a close, the ladies were leveled and whoever would win two points in a row would win the set. That proved to be a difficult task for both, but eventually Svitolina converted her sixth match point to win the tiebreak 12-10 and hence the match.
Commenting on her hunger for victories, even when a match is not a decisive one for her, Svitolina said:
Each time I step on the court I have to win. My parents raised me this way – that I have to fight for everything, I have to give 100% each time I play.
The 25-year-old Svitolina plays Swiss seventh seed Belinda Bencic in Saturday’s semifinals.