In what will be their sixth encounter in just the last year, Elina Svitolina and Daria Gavrilova will meet in an all-seeded match-up at Indian Wells on Sunday. Svitolina was pushed to the brink in her second round match, while Gavrilova had a much more straightforward passage to the third round.
Svitolina d. Wang Qiang, 3-6 6-3 7-6(3)
Svitolina’s winning streak was under jeopardy on Friday as she fought off a spirited effort from Wang Qiang to win a brutal second round encounter in two hours and 38 minutes. Svitolina had been ahead in all three sets but was pegged back each time by the rapidly improving, Wang Qiang, who came up with some superb tennis.
Wang Qiang reeled off five games in a row to win the first set, winning a crucial game at 2-3 when she broke Svitolina’s serve for the first time. She took the advice of her coach to implement the drop shot which she did three times and was successful on all three occasions. Svitolina was rather out-of-sorts, showing no real purpose on her shots and returning poorly. The Ukrainian player improved at the start of the second set to quickly go up 4-0, moving Wang Qiang from side-to-side effectively. Svitolina’s concentration wavered with Wang Qiang fighting back once more, but Svitolina managed to force a decider.
In conversation with her coach Andew Bettles between the second and third sets, it sounded like Svitolina was feeling it physically with Bettles encouraging her to show positive body language and even throw in a few “come ons”. After an early exchange of breaks in the third set, Svitolina won 12 points in a row and had three break points leading *4-2* 40-0*.
Once again, Svitolina was rather wasteful with her opportunities as Wang Qiang mounted another challenge, playing some inspired tennis at 4-4 to get within one game of the match. There were some brilliant rallies with both players throwing the kitchen sink at each other. Svitolina had a tame attempt at serving out the match at *6-5 but kept a solid level for the ensuing third set tiebreak as Wang Qiang produced some critical errors.
In the end, a good battle and another win for Svitolina where she managed to wear down her opponent with some gritty defence and a never-say-die attitude.
Gavrilova d. Wickmayer, 6-2 7-6(5)
In her first match for nearly a month, Gavrilova produced a decent display to see off Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets. The first set was a Dasha masterclass as she negated Wickmayer’s power and aggression with an array of different strokes. There were a handful of crackers – on one point, she somehow managed to chase down a decent-enough drop shot from Wickmayer and, with some help from the net, flick it back cross-court for the winner.
Wickmayer was able to rely on her serve in the second set to secure a foothold in the match. However, she failed to make many inroads on Gavrilova’s service games, missing a valuable break point that would have seen her serve for the set. Into a tiebreak and both players were tense – Gavrilova hit a huge double fault at 3-3 but to her credit, she didn’t let the disappointment overwhelm her, eventually forcing a match point with a gorgeous sliced drop shot. On match point, Gavrilova challenged an ace from Wickmayer and was successful. Wickmayer then double faulted…
This was a very good win for Gavrilova as this may have been a match that had got away from her last year. The Aussie did a great job at disrupting Wickmayer’s rhythm who struggled to string good points together.
Head-to-head record: Svitolina leads Gavrilova in their head-to-head, 3-2. Gavrilova won three successive matches in straight sets last year (including at the Hopman Cup which is not included in the H2H). I remember Gavrilova’s 6-2 7-6(4) win over Svitolina in Madrid last year where Svitolina was making a concerted effort to be aggressive and come to the net but it was too forced and didn’t work. In recent matches, an improving Svitolina has turned the head-to-head around with two straight set wins in Beijing (7-6(3) 6-1, 2016) and Fed Cup action in Khariv (6-3 6-2, 2017).
Interesting stat(s): Svitolina has won her last 14 matches on tour and hasn’t lost since the Australian Open when she fell in the third round to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. For Gavrilova, she is into the third round of Indian Wells for the first time in her career.
Final thoughts: Gavrilova had Svitolina’s number for a time and was dominating this match-up through much of 2016. However, a mark of her resilence, Svitolina has managed to turn it around, and in rather resounding fashion, winning their last two matches in straight sets.
The key for Gavrilova in this match will be to inject nuggets of variety and break up Svitolina’s rhythm, something she did so well against Wickmayer. Svitolina has looked to be more aggressive this year, particularly on the forehand side, but can switch into fighter mode, running down balls and putting that element of doubt in her opponent’s head. While the performance against Wang Qiang was mostly sub-par, i’d expect a much improved display from Svitolina in the third round, who demonstrated stark improvements round-by-round in Taipei City and Dubai.
Svitolina looked fatigued at the end of her match against Wang Qiang which comes as no surprise based on her very heavy schedule in February. Still, I find it difficult to write off Svitolina in her current form where she’s managing to win matches, even playing well below her best.