A week ago, when the WTA’s season-ending championship was getting underway, few believed that Elina Svitolina and Sloane Stephens would be the last women standing in Singapore. Stephens was a rookie at this event, and she has never played well in Asia. Svitolina had been in a slump since May, and had failed to advance to the semifinals here in her only previous appearance, in 2017. But the WTA Finals, with its limited draw and round-robin format, tends to take on a life of its own over the course of a week. In 2016 and 2017, few expected the eventual champions, Dominika Cibulkova and Caroline Wozniacki, to walk away with the title when the tournament began.
As this week unfolded, it quickly became clear that Stephens and Svitolina were playing the best tennis in their respective groups. The speedy American used the slow surface to wait out her opponents, while the Ukrainian brought a renewed, grunt-fueled relentlessness to her baseline attack. Each went 3-0 in round-robin play, and each made a gritty goal-line stand in the semifinals on Saturday. Stephens survived a bagel first set to beat Karolina Pliskova in three, while Svitolina fought off break points at 5-4 in the third set against Kiki Bertens.
Stephens and Svitolina have played three times, and Stephens has won twice; that includes a straight-set victory in their only meeting of 2018, in Montreal. The surface here will also favor Stephens, as it has all week; it seems tailor-made for Sloane’s unique blend of impenetrable defense and high, heavy counter-punching—you have to be on, for a long time, to beat her. And while she has never played a season-ending final before, Stephens has won a US Open, and she’s 6-2 in her career in finals. Typically, in big matches, her steadiness serves her well against opponents who get the jitters.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: Elina Svitolina d. Kiki Bertens in the Singapore semifinals
Will the 24-year-old Svitolina get a little jittery in her first season-ending final? She has never made it past the quarters at a Grand Slam event, or played a match of this importance. If anything, though, her track record in finals is even better than Stephens. She’s 12-2 for her career, and 3-0 in 2018.
Perhaps more important, it feels like Svitolina has been on a mission in Singapore. From January until May, 2018 had appeared to be a breakout season for her. Then, after losing a significant amount of weight, she was inundated with comments and criticism about her physique, and her game and results cratered. This week a recharged, and physically stronger, Svitolina has been determined to salvage what she can of 2018, and put that criticism behind her.
Which will win out: The cool control of Stephens or the redemptive resolve of Svitolina? Either way, it’s a match that should go the distance, and should, hopefully, send an entertaining 2018 WTA season out on a deserved high note.
*This Week on Tennis Channel PLUS 10/21*
ATP Vienna & Basel (10/22 –10/28)
- Tennis Channel PLUS has every match live, First Round to the Final. Watch live coverage from 4 courts on Tennis Channel PLUS beginning Monday 10/22 at 7:00AM ET.
USTA Macon (10/23 – 10/28)
- Tennis Channel PLUS has first ball to last ball action live! Coverage begins Tuesday, October 23 at 10:00AM ET