It’s going to be a case of déjà vu in Dubai on Friday as defending champion Elina Svitolina and German No. 6 seed Angelique Kerber face off in the semi-finals, in a rematch of their showdown here last year at the same stage.
Svitolina, the top seed in the Emirates this week, came back from 0-3 down in the second set to defeat Japanese big-hitter Naomi Osaka 6-2, 6-4 in Thursday’s quarter-finals in one hour and 22 minutes.
The 23-year-old is looking to capture a second trophy of the season, having lifted the trophy in Brisbane to kick off her 2018 with a bang, and takes a 6-5 head-to-head record lead over her next opponent Kerber.
Svitolina has been impressive in her title defence campaign so far this week.
“Definitely I’m happy the way I’ve been handling the pressure and tough moments. I had two good matches. I cannot say was amazing tennis, but when I needed I was stepping up and playing well,” said Svitolina, who beat lucky loser Wang Qiang in three sets in her opening match.
“Still I have semi-final ahead of me. I don’t want to say early. But, yeah, the way I was playing, it was enough to go through.”
Last year, Dubai was the biggest title Svitolina had won at the time and she went on to have a great 2017 where she also picked up Premier 5 trophies in Rome and Toronto, and reached the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Her success at the Aviation Club last season saw her collect $487,245 in prize money. Asked how she treated herself with that handsome sum, Svitolina said: “I took a new physio with me. Well, yeah, physio. Bigger team for me. Always investing, trying to invest in myself. Also I had nutritionist added to my team. These cost lots of money. I prefer to do that.”
Svitolina is coached by Frenchman Thierry Ascione, who also works with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Ascione doesn’t travel with her much and is only available to her during the time where Tsonga does not need him.
She often goes to work with him in Paris, where he is based, or he joins her at few tournaments, when possible. Instead, she travels with Andrew Bettles, who acts as a travelling second coach and hitting partner.
“This was actually the idea when I stopped with Iain Hughes. I wanted someone not full-time. I just wanted to stay really focused on what I have to do on the court, stay little bit, like, away from someone talking always on the court,” she explained.
“Last year, it really worked well.”
In town with a new coach this year is Kerber, who joined forces with Wim Fissette end of last season. The German ex-world No. 1 is enjoying a resurgence these past seven weeks following a forgettable 2017.
Her run to the semi-finals saw her defeat Barbora Strycova and Sara Errani in her first two matches before dismissing third-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-3 in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
The 30-year-old Kerber is particularly proud of how she has bounced back from her difficult 2017.
“Especially after last year where I was sitting home, I told myself, ‘Okay, this is not the end. I know I am a fighter. I will come back and I will go through all the tough preseason, fighting back. This is how I am’.
“Of course, it’s great to being back in the top-10, playing good tennis again. But for me right now, I mean, my goal is improving my game, enjoying my tennis, just trying to continue how I start the year.”
Looking ahead to her semi-final clash with Svitolina, who has won their last four meetings, Kerber said: “We played last year also in the semis. Yeah, she played unbelievable last year. Still a lot of confidence, especially here where she won last year.
“Yeah, it will be a tough match. She’s, yeah, bringing a lot of balls back, playing good tennis, moving good. I think it will be, yeah, a close and tough match tomorrow.”
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