Elina Svitolina is carving out a familiar path this year in women’s tennis.
Simona Halep produced a terrific 2018 season. She ended it as the No. 1 player on the WTA Tour. She won a large stack of tennis matches. She was consistent from week to week.
In 2019, Elina Svitolina is following that basic trajectory.
Svitolina did lose to Bianca Andreescu in Friday night’s semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open, but her tournament can’t be viewed as a disappointment — certainly not a profound one.
Does it sting to lose in yet another semifinal and move to Miami without another trophy? Sure. Yet, when viewed from a wider, more panoramic vantage point, this Indian Wells tournament felt like an affirmation of good habits and inclinations more than a sign of future heartbreak.
The defining aspect of Halep’s 2018 season on a broader level — not the crown jewel at Roland Garros, but the characteristic which persisted through the month of August before injuries and fatigue took their toll — was the ability to go very deep in tournaments. Halep made the semifinals or better at a majority of her 15 tournaments in 2018. She reached eight semifinals, keeping in mind that in Wuhan and Beijing, she was not healthy. It is fairer to say that Halep, at full strength, made eight semifinals in 13 appearances. She reached the quarterfinals in 10 of those 13 (full-strength, full-health) tournaments.
Halep won a lot of matches in 2018, but not a huge amount of titles. She claimed three, and only two above the International level: Roland Garros and Montreal. Petra Kvitova collected more titles but didn’t rise at the majors. Halep won fewer titles but grabbed a major, reached a second major final in 2018, and was a reliable semifinalist: “Semi-Simo.”
This is where Svitolina is heading in 2019.
Quarterfinals in Australia. Semifinals in Doha. Semifinals in Dubai. Semifinals in Indian Wells. Svitolina has established herself as the player who is almost always playing in the latter stages of an important tournament. She and Petra Kvitova have been very solid to start the year, with Belinda Bencic beginning to pick up more match wins and display a measure of staying power.
I freely admit that I was wrong — and premature — in expressing grave concerns about Svitolina’s overall progression last summer in Cincinnati. (Full acknowledgment must come in the form of sharing a link, which I will do here.) I felt she was regrouping, meaning that she was taking a big step back and might require a year to really figure out where she was headed.
In truth, Svitolina did not need that much time. She IS at the forefront of women’s tennis, contrary to my assessment last summer. Continuously making semifinals, if sustained through 2019, will enable Svitolina to compete for the biggest prizes on tour. She will win a major — maybe not this year, but certainly at some point in the next few seasons — if she continues to play at this level on a sustained basis. Her steadiness offers reason to view her season through an optimistic lens rather than a pessimistic one.
Elina Svitolina is headed in the right direction. Semifinal points and paychecks represent a good year on a deep WTA Tour.
Now, if she can just reach a semifinal at a specific kind of tournament: a major one.
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