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Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova hope the wait will soon end

Matt Zemek



Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports

The people who offer consultation and advice on how to run a website will tell you that it is better to post two separate articles on two separate individuals than to post one piece on two individuals, if you can help it.

Google News rewards the presence of two posts as a sign of increased activity, which helps the visibility of the site in Google searches and other algorithms. Putting up only one post isn’t rewarded, even if two players — not merely one — represent the focus of the article.

I thought about posting separate articles on Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova after the WTA Finals in Shenzhen. Yet, the more I thought about how to differentiate my specific points of focus on the two players, the more I thought it was pointless to do so.

Karolina Pliskova — Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, it is true that Svitolina and Pliskova are at different stages in their careers. The tennis clock isn’t ticking as urgently for the younger Svitolina as it is for the older Pliskova.

For Pliskova, the 2020 season will contain the same urgency the 2018 season held for Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep, who had not yet won majors and had already celebrated their 26th birthdays when 2018 began.

Svitolina faces nothing close to that same level of urgency.

Yet, these two players are bound together in three very obvious ways:

One is that they have track records of winning tournaments before majors. Svitolina did this multiple times in 2017. Pliskova did this multiple times in 2019.

Two: They have confounded expectations at the two organic-surface majors.

Svitolina is a natural on clay but has made a Wimbledon semifinal and not a Roland Garros semi.

Pliskova’s huge serve makes her game tailored to grass, but she owns a Roland Garros semifinal berth and not a Wimbledon semi (or even a quarterfinal).

Three: They both offer examples of players who knock on the door but can’t take the last few steps.

Pliskova has built more of a reputation for consistently reaching the quarterfinals or better at important tournaments (not just majors, too). Svitolina was once very successful at winning Premier 5 tournaments, not merely coming close to winning them. That is a difference between the two.

Yet, on a broader level, both Pliskova and Svitolina have played into the second week of a major and seemed to have a shot at going all the way, only to miss their opportunity. It hasn’t always been the same story in terms of the cause of the defeat.

Sometimes — as in Pliskova’s loss to Naomi Osaka in the 2019 Australian Open semis — the opponent was simply better.

Yet, in other instances, these two players have not been able to play their best tennis. In still other instances, they put up a good fight but lost their nerve in an important moment.

Svitolina’s foremost example of this particular dynamic was her collapse against Simona Halep in the 2017 Roland Garros quarterfinals. Pliskova’s foremost example was her resolute and determined but flawed loss to Karolina Muchova at Wimbledon. She battled well, but couldn’t serve out the match in two separate instances when she had the chance.

Svitolina and Pliskova — though owning very different playing styles and being at different stages of their respective careers — are united in this one larger respect: They have accumulated a lot of instances of being close to a career breakthrough. They have both risen very high in the rankings — Pliskova No. 1, Svitolina No. 3 — but haven’t found that crowning triumph all elite tennis players pursue their entire professional lives.

The WTA Finals — with Pliskova falling in the semis to Ashleigh Barty — marked yet another occasion in which Pliskova came close to winning an event without achieving final victory. Svitolina’s loss in the WTA Finals championship match represented yet another “almost” moment in a 2019 season which was filled with narrow misses, dating back to February in Doha and Dubai.

Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina are different players at different places in their careers. Yet, these two elite tennis professionals are bound by the realization that with all the close calls they have endured, the laws of averages suggest that they are bound to break through before too long.

It invites a measure of hope into the next decade, but it also brings forth an inconvenient and unsettling question, especially for Pliskova: What if opportunities don’t continue to emerge at the same rate?

Pliskova and Svitolina can wait for their moment of tennis glory — they have to — but will tennis wait for them?

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Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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