DUBAI // Last Saturday, at the draw for the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Elina Svitolina was asked what her greatest motivation in tennis was.
“My main goal is to be No 1 in the world,” she said, making no effort to cloak her ambitions. “So I am always motivated to win tournaments, to win more titles.”
True to her words, the Ukrainian won her biggest title yet Saturday night, defeating 2011 Dubai champion Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-2 in an hour and 28 minutes in a rain-delayed final.
This was her first final at the Premier 5 level and Svitolina, who will now make her debut in the Top 10 when the new rankings are released, could barely conceal her joy.
“I am super happy that I could win this title,” she said on court after her win. “For me it really means a lot. It’s very, very special for me. I am really, really relieved and happy.
“It’s always tough to play against Caroline. She is such a fighter, never steps back and always very tough. So, it was a great match and I am really happy that I could win in two sets. It was extremely tough today.”
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It was tough, but Svitolina made it look easy, hitting 23 winners to Wozniacki’s 10. She also had fewer unforced errors (25 to Wozniacki’s 27) and fewer double faults (2-4), and won 71 of the total 128 points. Svitolina seemed the more determined of the two, and even the pesky drizzles could not douse her fire.
That burning ambition, of course, was already evident through the week as the Ukrainian cruised through the opening rounds and, after her quarter-final win, she reminded us of her consistency.
“I’m not the first year on tour,” she said. “When the young players are coming up, they have nothing to defend, so that’s why their rankings keep rising. And then next year, when they need to defend [points], it’s like much tougher.
“For me, it’s not my first year. I have already been at a stage where I needed to defend points, stages where this kind of pressure is there.”
Svitolina sounded extremely assured when she said that, without being arrogant, and that seemingly unshakeable confidence was on exhibit again against an opponent much more experienced than her on this stage.
Wozniacki, a finalist in Doha last week, is a former world No 1 and was playing in her 44th career final. Serena Williams (92), Venus Williams (81) and Maria Sharapova (58) are the only active players to have appeared in more finals.
Svitolina, by contrast, was appearing in her eighth career final, but her first at this level. All her previous five titles had come at the international-level tournaments.
The Ukrainian’s confidence, however, made up for that lack of experience, and now she is looking forward to a long stay in the Top 10.
“It’s an amazing feeling to enter the Top 10 by winning this tournament,” said Svitolina, who stretched her current winning streak to 12 matches. “So yeah, I am very excited about this season and very happy that I could win this tournament.”
Svitolina and Wozniacki should have been on the court at 7pm, but multiple rain stoppages meant the doubles final, which had started at 5pm, eventually finished around 8.45pm. The actual match time was two hours and 10 minutes.
“It was too much of the rain delays, to be honest,” said Elena Vesnina after she and Ekaterina Makarova, the Rio Olympic champions, won the doubles title with a 6-2, 4-6 (10-7) win over Andrea Hlavackova and Shuai Peng.
“I think everyone would lose their rhythm. Even Roger [Federer], I think, would lose his rhythm after this kind of on-and-off, on-and-off.”
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