Despite winning two titles in a shortened season and spending the entire year ranked inside the WTA’s Top 5, Elina Svitolina was disappointed with her 2020. In her quest to find the ever-elusive mental edge, the Ukrainian hired a full-time mental coach to help her stay focused during a time of unprecedented unpredictability.
"The lady with whom I'm working right now, we found a good connection," she says. "She's really not too picky on how I feel and somehow I open up really easy with her and we share a lot. We try to find the right way for me to make me feel good and just make me feel stronger mentally."
Mental toughness has long been one of Svitolina’s biggest strengths, so it should be fascinating to see how the former WTA Finals champion begins her season with some extra help in that department.
The Ukrainian will kick off her 2021 campaign against rising American Jessica Pegula, who enjoyed a rock-solid 2020, reaching the Auckland final in January and the Cincinnati (New York) quarterfinals in August, where she defeated Amanda Anisimova, Jennifer Brady and Aryna Sabalenka in consecutive matches.
Pegula’s raw power and ultra-aggressive game will test another one of Svitolina’s greatest strengths, her quickness. Svitolina has an uncanny ability to anticipate (no doubt aided by her swift feet), and redirect opponents’ shots with pinpoint accuracy.
Pegula and Svitolina grew up competing on the ITF junior circuit together, and while they have never faced on the WTA Tour, the No. 2 seed is well aware of Pegula’s dangerous game.
"I think she [Pegula] is a good player. She is very aggressive and I have to be ready for her as I don’t know her so much after she missed a couple of seasons due to injury. We are the same age and we have played juniors at the same time. I am sure my coach will sit down and break down the game plan for me."
Part of her game plan should involve mixing up the pace, as Pegula can hit with anyone groundstroke to groundstroke, but struggles when forced to move forward and defend the net. A few short slices and drop shots on the key points, like the one below, will go a long way for the Ukrainian.
The American has proven she can beat the game’s best, but an even more mentally tough Svitolina presents a nightmare matchup for Pegula, and the rest of the Abu Dhabi draw.
The Pick: Elina Svitolina