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Melbourne: Svitolina solves Ostapenko, Osaka overcomes surging Boulter
The Gippsland Trophy's high seeds each rallied from one-set deficits to survive hungry opponents, with Elina Svitolina sealing rival Jelena Ostapenko while Naomi Osaka held off resurgent Brit Katie Boulter.
Published Feb 03, 2021
No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina surged through an emphatic comeback over Latvian rival Jelena Ostapenko, rallying from a set down to defeat the former French Open champion, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-2, to reach the Gippsland Trophy quarterfinals.
Svitolina began the 2021 season with back-to-back final-set tie-breaks at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open—losing the latter to eventual runner-up Veronika Kudermetova in the last eight—and the big match experienced paid off as she navigated the big-hitting Ostapenko’s highs and lows to advance after two hours and seven minutes on 1573 Arena.
Though Svitolina won their most recent meeting in Doha two years ago, Ostapenko led their head-to-head by two matches to one, solving the Ukrainian en route to the 2017 Wimbledon quarterfinals and the Miami Open final eight months later.
Ostapenko, who spent quarantine practicing with defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, was on song early in Melbourne, clubbing her way to a 5-2 lead before the No. 3 seed could respond.
Respond she did, winning four of the next five games—saving three set points in between—and easing ahead 3-0 in the ensuing Sudden Death, eliciting a scream from an emotional Ostapenko.
The outburst seemed to set the 23-year-old back on axis as she roared through the seven of the final eight points to take the opening set.
Svitolina showed her mettle in the proceedings that followed, exploiting a sole break—while saving four break points on her own serve—to level the match, and survived one last Ostapenko surge to end the match with an impressive 23 winners to 19 unforced errors. No. 7 seed Elise Mertens awaits in what will be a rematch of their 2018 Australian Open quarterfinal clash, though Svitolina has avenged the defeat in two subsequent encounters.
Though the former world No. 4 couldn’t clinch the upset, the week marks a continued upward trend for Ostapenko, who stunned Karolina Pliskova last fall at Roland Garros but has largely struggled in the two years since reaching the 2018 Wimbledon semifinals—falling as low to No. 83 in the WTA rankings the following summer.
Over on Margaret Court Arena, No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka reversed a similarly slow start to seal resurgent Brit Katie Boulter, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
"Today was really tough for me," she said in her post-match press conference. "I think the entire first set and halfway into the second set, I was on my back foot a lot. I felt like I was letting her dictate most of the balls. For me, I never felt like I really settled, so in the second and third sets, I was more able to find what I needed to do and impose my pace onto the rally."
Boulter was one to watch starting in Australia back in 2019, when she famously became the first woman to win an Australian Open match that featured the then-new 10-point tie-break over Ekaterina Makarova. Backing that up with a winning Fed Cup weekend for Great Britain against Kazakhstan, a spinal stress fracture compounded by chronic fatigue stunted her progress.
Back on the big stage with a dramatic win over American Coco Gauff, the 24-year-old angled for another upset as she broke the reigning US Open champion’s serve twice in a row to sneak off with the first set.
Osaka put down an emphatic reply, racing ahead 4-0 in the second, and though Boulter got within a point of evening the set, the Japanese star held firm and never looked back, reeling off eight of the final nine games.
"I think in the second set, I was able to get a lot of my nerves out, and I was able to sort of analyze the situation more. She has a really amazing forehand, so it felt like no matter what I did with the second serve, she was able to hit a winner on the forehand return. I tried to avoid that, so I went to the backhand more."
The 23-year-old, who has been racking up as many wins off the court as on with a slew of high-profile endorsements that include Louis Vuitton and Tag Heuer, will next face Irina-Camelia Begu after the Romanian shocked No. 5 seed Johanna Konta in a titanic 4-6, 7-6(10), 7-6(4) scoreline that required a whopping nine match points to complete.