It’s time to take notice of Elina Svitolina, the toughest out in women’s tennis

Tennis


Over the coming weeks, fans and pundits will be talking a lot about Serena and Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, along with Victoria Azarenka and Simona Halep. Chances are Elina Svitolina won’t be part of that conversation.

“It’s OK not to have the attention,” Svitolina told ESPN.com at the Tie Break Tens event she won at Madison Square Garden a week ago. “I like to focus just on my tennis. When you wake up in the morning knowing you are No. 4, that brings a lot of confidence and a lot of positive thoughts.”

Svitolina has established herself as the most consistent winner on the WTA Tour. Just 23 years old, she crashed the top 10 last year, collecting five titles and amassing an 11-5 record against the other nine players in that elite group — none of whom managed to beat her more than once. She ended up leading the tour with a .791 winning percentage.

The creator of the longest unbeaten streak of 2017 (15 matches), Svitolina is off to a spectacular start this year. She already has locked down two titles in three tournament appearances.

If there’s one caveat, it’s that Svitolina has had trouble producing and sustaining her A-game at Grand Slam events. But she’s working on that with her signature diligence.

“It’s tough to say what I am missing,” Svitolina said. “The important thing is to be ready to play at a high level for two weeks. That’s the difference at a Grand Slam. That is sometimes difficult physically. But we try to pay attention to all the small details — to find a way, my way.”

Svitolina made the French Open quarterfinals last year and the fourth round at both Wimbledon and the US Open. The critics now demand more. She reached the final eight at this year’s Australian Open, before falling to No. 37 Elise Mertens. A painful hip injury played a role in that loss.

Following her loss in Melbourne, Svitolina was asked what she might need to do to take the next step at a Grand Slam. She tartly replied: “Probably to be healthy.”

Svitolina said her team adjusts the work schedule and tries to do things “a little differently” ahead of each Grand Slam event. They’re turning over every rock looking for a solution, as evidenced by her history with coaches. She recruited former No. 1 Justine Henin in 2016 to help round out her shot repertoire and beef up her offense. By the end of that year, Henin was replaced by Gabriel Urpi, who has since been left behind in favor of Thierry Ascione.

Toting an impregnable, balanced game and a growing penchant for attacking and finishing points has paid off for Svitolina. Mertens summed up her opponent’s strengths accurately and concisely when she told the Australian press, “She’s a great mover. She can do great things, defense but also offensive.”

Growing up, Svitolina fantasized about becoming No. 1 and playing on the game’s great stages. She did not realize how much more there was to success at that level than happy feet, smooth stroke production and an impressive array of shots.

“I never thought I would get to this level, playing in places like Wimbledon and Madison Square Garden,” Svitolina said. “In the past two years, I’ve been working very hard on the mental part. People in the top 200, the top 500, the top 700 all can hit the ball over the net. To go high on the tour, you have to be exceptional in everything, and you have to be better mentally.”

And once she gets there, Svitolina looks like she’ll be the toughest out in women’s tennis. If she isn’t already.



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