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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Elina Svitolina's Dubai tennis title win motivated by desire to emulate Justine Henin and Venus Williams

Ukrainian becomes only third WTA player after Henin and Williams to win Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships two years in a row after straights sets win over Daria Kasatkina

It was the second time Elina Svitolina has returned to a tournament and retained the trophy. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
It was the second time Elina Svitolina has returned to a tournament and retained the trophy. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo

To Justine Henin and Venus Williams, add Elina Svitolina.

As if a second title of a nascent 2018 would not be satisfying enough. The US$651,347 (Dh2.4 million) pay cheque is not to be sniffed at, either.

But in going back-to-back at the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Svitolina on Saturday became only the third woman in the tournament’s 18 years to defend the title. She joined two of the game’s more illustrious names. Not a bad group to gatecrash, that.

“Yeah, it feels amazing,” the Ukrainian said after a convincing 6-4, 6-0 victory against Daria Kasatkina at the Aviation Club. “When they were announcing our names [in the warm-up], they were telling that Justine and Venus are the only ones who defended their titles.

"I was like, ‘OK, c’mon, you have to do this’. It really motivated me, which was good. It didn't add more pressure."

That much was evident. The No 1 seed this week, ranked fourth in the world, needed little more than an hour on Centre Court to see of her Russian opponent. The turning point of the first set came in the fifth game, when Svitolina broke to go 4-2 up.

Later, she required four set points to see it out, although the second set was slightly more straightforward.

Kasatkina had spent almost double the time on court this week, including coming through an extra match. Thus, she seemed simply to run out of steam. However, adding to an already deep reservoir of credit earned in Dubai these past six days, the 20-year-old player refused to blame fatigue.

“Of course, it is the final. You’re trying to run, trying to reach every ball. Not every day you are playing finals,” said Kasatkina, who came into the event ranked 24th in the world. “I was tired. I think everybody saw it. But it's not an excuse. It's OK.”

“Elina was the toughest opponent for this final. She was playing really good all week. In the final, she showed her best tennis. It was really tough.”

Contesting only her third WTA final, and displaying the fortitude and the finesse she did throughout the tournament, it should get easier. For Svitolina, she extended an impressive record to 11 wins from 13 title matches.

It was the second time she has returned to a tournament and retained the trophy. Not that she was particularly aware of it.

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Daria Kasatkina had played a lot of tennis during the course of the tournament, and it showed in the final. Mahmoud Khaled / EPA
Daria Kasatkina had played a lot of tennis during the course of the tournament, and it showed in the final. Mahmoud Khaled / EPA

“Even this morning I was trying to remember, but I couldn't remember that I won two times, in Baku,” she said, smiling. “I remember I won two times, but not that I defended.

“It feels great. I’m very pleased with the performance throughout the week. When I had to play well, I played well, in the important moments. It was solid performance, I would say. OK, maybe not amazing tennis, but I was pretty solid. It was enough.”

She agreed that “pretty solid” was the perfect way to summarise her week as a whole. Now, Svitolina will hope the solid form this year – she won in Brisbane last month – can turn her season into amazing one, just as it did 12 months ago.

When the curtain came down on 2017, she had landed five titles. It was more than any of her peers. The latest, though, might just feel the best of the bunch.

“Each tournament, the ones that I won, brought something really special into my game,” she said. “This title particularly, handling the pressure, playing the way I had to play on court. I'm happy that I'm moving the right direction.”