They may not be the most famous tennis players around, but few at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Sunday night (28 October) will forget their names, as Elina Svitolina and Sloane Stephens served up an enthralling singles final in the last edition of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
In a match filled with twists and turns, punctuated by shrieks and fist pumps, competed by two young women who refused to yield even an inch, it was Svitolina who was the more unrelenting and gutsier player as she wore down Stephens 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to claim the biggest title of her blossoming career.
For a competition that features the top performing players of the season, it has produced four consecutive winners who did not own a Grand Slam title at the time of their triumphs – Agnieszka Radwanska (2015), Dominika Cibulkova (2016), Caroline Wozniacki (2017) and now Svitolina.
Of the quartet, only Wozniacki has since gone on to clinch a maiden Grand Slam title with her Australian Open triumph in January. But moments after lifting the Billie Jean King trophy, Svitolina expressed her determination to follow the Dane’s footsteps.
“I played against top players and the best players in the world, and I played great tennis,” she said. “This is good statement for myself, I was mentally tough – that’s what made the difference.”
All week long, Svitolina carried a different kind of intensity than the other seven contestants in the tournament. A chip on the shoulder perhaps, with the 24-year-old being the only one among them not to have reached a Grand Slam semi-final despite a stellar year in which she won three titles.
She strutted the court briskly, pumped her fists fiercely with every winner, and roared in delight after every hard-fought win. Her animated demeanour went down well with the crowd, who cheered her on with chants of “E-LI-NA! E-LI-NA!” throughout the final.
In contrast, Stephens cut a far more languid figure, appearing to enjoy her debut appearance at the tournament. Nonetheless, her calmness served her well at the tournament, as the former US Open champion stayed nerveless despite being involved in several tight matches.
“I was just really excited to be here and excited to compete with everybody. I thought I did really well this whole week, a lot to be proud of,” the 25-year-old said. “I know that if I keep doing what I’m doing and I keep working hard, there will be way more opportunities just like this one.”
In a final which is less about power than a test of endurance and speed, it was Stephens who settled in quicker in the opening set, and she broke Svitolina’s service game immediately for a 2-0 lead. As the Ukrainian struggled to find her range, Stephens was imperious in her control, retrieving with consistency to take the first set 6-3.
Yet, Svitolina grew into the match, and started producing some stinging returns to put her American opponent under pressure in the second set. Eventually, Stephens wilted as her unforced errors crept up, and she lost three games in a row to allow Svitolina to draw level 6-2.
She continued her onslaught in the third set, racing to a 3-0 before Stephens managed to claw two games back. Still, the momentum was firmly with the Ukrainian, and she produced some scintillating shot-making to prevail after 2hr 23min of high-quality tennis.
Svitolina was heartened that the extra work she put in recently paid off. She said, “Since Wimbledon (in July), I’ve have four or five weeks when I hit the courts and the gym immediately after tournaments.
“I was giving everything on the practice court, but results were, like, not what I expected. I was a little bit sad, but I was staying very positive, and that’s what made the difference in this week.”
In the doubles final, the second-seeded pair of Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic emerged as champions after beating top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 6-4, 7-5.