When Elina Svitolina tries to explain how she has managed to win 11 of 13 WTA finals she’s ever contested, she jokes that she wishes it was 13 out of 13.
The Ukrainian world No. 4 described her week in Dubai, where she defended her title by defeating Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-0 in the final, as “solid” and it was just that.
“I always set really high goals for myself. Of course I was kidding,” she says of the 13/13 remark.
“When I was growing up, for me, I just loved playing tennis. I loved competing. I think this really brought me into the high level.
“My family that was pushing me, not crazy, but in the right way. My brother who also had a big influence on me, motivating me when I was young, which was important. All these things that really came together. Yeah, I’m happy that I’m moving the right direction.”
On how she mentally approaches finals, she said: “All the time I try to take it as a challenge, something new. Each tournament, the ones that I won, brought something really special into my game. This title particularly, handling the pressure, playing the way I had to play on court, yeah. Every final was different. I tried to just be ready 100 per cent, then see how it goes.
“But I’m very pleased it’s going my way most of the time.”
Svitolina joins her former coach Justine Henin, and American legend Venus Williams, as the only three women to defend the Dubai title in the tournament’s 18-year history.
“It feels amazing. When they were announcing our names, they were saying that Justine and Venus are only the ones who defended their titles, I was like, ‘Okay, come on, you have to do this’. It really motivated me, which was good. It didn’t add more pressure,” said Svitolina.
“Yeah, I really enjoyed. It was tough battle in the first set. I was going through tough moments. She was fighting really, really hard. Yeah, was high intensity. But I was pleased the way I handle it.”
An eventful week of tennis has come to an end in Dubai and it culminated with Elina Svitolina defending her title.
Here’s a look at the numbers and figures behind the 18th edition of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
3 – women have successfully defended the Dubai title: Svitolina, Venus Williams and Justine Henin.
5 – match points saved by Kasatkina en route to the final (2 against Konta, 3 against Muguruza).
8 – Svitolina is the eighth top seed to win the Dubai title.
10 – hours and 15 minutes, the total time spent on court by Kasatkina.
11 – titles won from 13 finals reached for Svitolina.
16 – aces struck by Caroline Garcia through her three matches in Dubai, the most by any player in the draw.
20 – Kasatkina’s new career-high ranking when the new standings are released on Monday.
20 – Kasatkina’s age, she is the youngest to reach the final in Dubai since Victoria Azarenka in 2010.
20 – times Svitolina has broken serve throughout the week.
23 – double faults hit by Kasatkina, the most by any player in the draw.
26 – games Svitolina has dropped en route to the title, averaging 6.5 games per match.
34 – unforced errors hit by Kasatkina in the final against Svitolina, compared to just 11 winners.
50.4 – Svitolina won 50.4 per cent of her return points throughout the week (four matches), the second-highest percentage behind Naomi Osaka who won 51.9 per cent of her return points (three matches).
61.5 – Svitolina won 61.5 per cent of her service points throughout the week, the highest among all players this tournament.
82.5 – Svitolina has won 82.5 per cent of her service games throughout the week.
347 – Kasatkina has collected $347,060 for making the final in Dubai, the largest prize money cheque she has received at a single tournament.
Top seed Elina Svitolina became just the third woman to defend the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title thanks to a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Russia’s Daria Kasatkina.
The fourth-ranked Svitolina needed just one hour and 10 minutes to end Kasatkina’s inspired run that saw the 20-year-old save five match points en route to the final, taking out No. 7 seed Johanna Konta and No. 2 seed Garbine Muguruza.
But the 23-year-old Svitolina proved too solid for Kasatkina as the Ukrainian improved her stunning record in finals to 11-2 and joined Venus Williams and Justine Henin as the only women to win back-to-back titles in Dubai.
“It’s amazing, coming back and playing as a defending champion was amazing. I want to say congrats to Daria for her performance here, it was unbelievable. Definitely we’re going to see more and more of her, winning here,” said Svitolina after her win.
“I was just trying to hit the ball into the court, just trying to make a rally, in the end I was very happy the way I handled the pressure throughout the week.”
Kasatkina had the first break opportunity of the match, in Svitolina’s first service game, but the Ukrainian saved it and went on to break for a 4-2 lead.
Just as she had been doing all week, Kasatkina saved three set points in game nine, forcing Svitolina to serve for the set. And it wasn’t long before the Ukrainian sealed her one-set advantage, thanks to a wide backhand from Kasatkina.
Between sets, Kasatkina’s coach Philippe Dehaes paid a visit to his player giving her one special pep talk.
“I’m running like an idiot. I cannot hit the ball. My legs are like bubbles,” complained Kasatkina, who was feeling the effects of the 9+ hours she spent on court en route to the final.
The Belgian coach called upon Kasatkina to “be brave”, which is what she needed to be when she ousted Konta and Muguruza from match points down.
“You’re facing the best defender in the world. This girl is running everywhere and bringing all the balls back, and sometimes she’s making the decision,” said Dehaes.
“You are a brave girl, but you have to be brave in the decisions you take. Remember the basket we did, the sound, and I told you ‘Dasha hit, for the guy who is in the top of the stadium’, you see this forehand, that’s what we’re waiting for.
“You will have to go for it.
“Normally you stay five hours on court so for the moment this is correct,” he joked.
The chat didn’t do the trick as Svitolina quickly went up a double-break 3-0 in the second set.
A backhand winner saw Svitolina make it 5-0 and it was all over in 70 minutes.
Kasatkina ended up committing 34 unforced errors compared to just 11 winners.