Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 August 2020

Elina Svitolina puzzled by humbling first-round exit at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Two-time winner thrashed in straight sets by qualifier Brady to continue her poor start to season

Ukraine's Elina Svitolina makes a forehand return to Spain's Garbine Muguruza during their third round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Ukraine's Elina Svitolina makes a forehand return to Spain's Garbine Muguruza during their third round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Elina Svitolina was at a loss to explain her difficult start to the season after the Ukrainian third seed was emphatically eliminated from the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday.

Svitolina, 25, entered this week as the most successful player in the field, having won the tournament in 2017 and 2018, then reaching the semi-finals last year.

However, the form that carried her to twin title triumphs in Dubai continues to be mysteriously absent as she fell to a 6-2, 6-1 defeat to qualifier Jennifer Brady in exactly one hour.

This latest loss only compounded what has been a below-par start to the season by Svitolina’s usually high standards, comprising four wins against four losses, including a 6-4, 6-2 reverse against world No 82 Nao Hibino in the quarter-finals of the Thailand Open last week.

“It's tough to say, I don't know,” Svitolina said as she attempted to process the humbling defeat to Brady. “It was not a bad start, but then everything just went downhill. I wish I could regroup better. In the end, I didn't feel the ball so good. Everything was all over the place today.”

That fact that Svitolina did start well makes her collapse all the more puzzling. There was little between the two players in the first five games and it was Svitolina who could have taken the early advantage with two break points in the first game. Brady was saved by a challenge that, pre-technology, would have awarded the game to Svitolina.

But when serving at 2-3, the Ukrainian’s game fell apart. She was restricted to just three points for the remainder of the set as Brady took control, the world No 58’s greater power and aggression paying dividends.

From there, “I was able to just keep my foot on the gas,” Brady said, as the American marched into 4-0 lead in the second set. Svitolina gave herself a flicker of hope when she broke back for 4-1, but it proved a false dawn as Brady immediately reclaimed the two-break advantage. Svitolina was put out of her misery when Brady fired home a wide ace to book her place in the second round.

Svitolina’s current struggles are all the more curious given her fine end to last season where she reached the final of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen and made the semi-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open.

“I'm trying still to find what's going on, what I have to add to improve,” Svitolina said. “It's very tough to pick one thing. I think everything has to come together. I have to be stronger physically, I have to be in a better shape. Everything has to get better.

“We're working hard, but something is maybe not right. We will continue working and trying to find that particular moment where I will feel better and play better.”

Jennifer Brady of the US returns the ball to Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine during the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, at the Dubai Tennis Stadium in the United Arab Emirates, on February 18, 2020. / AFP / KARIM SAHIB
Jennifer Brady came through three rounds of qualifying prior to facing Elina Svitolina in Dubai. AFP

There is little time to go back to the drawing board for Svitolina, who next heads to Doha for the Qatar Open, and she believes her best chance of rediscovering her form is to keep playing matches.

“For now, we have tournaments almost every single week. You have to get ready. You have to regroup,” she said. “The bad days happen, today unfortunately was one of them. You have to try to avoid it happening next week. I'm going to get back on the court and work on my game.”

While Svitolina continues her search for form, the same concerns do not apply to Brady, who has now registered two wins over top-10 players already this season following her victory over world No 1 Ashleigh Barty at the Brisbane International last month.

The 24-year-old American also had the advantage of familiarising herself with the Dubai conditions after coming through three rounds of qualifying prior to facing Svitolina. “Yeah, it always helps,” said Brady, who faces the 20-year-old Czech and French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova in the second round.

“Every match you play, you get more used to the conditions, the court, the balls. You start to get in that competitive match mode. It's great have four matches under my belt going into the second round here.”

Updated: February 18, 2020 05:24 PM

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