Svitolina accepts wild card into DDF
The tournament gets underway on 17th February
Two-time champion Elina Svitolina has accepted a wild card into the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and is eagerly looking forward to making her bid to reclaim the title she surrendered last year to Belinda Bencic. Fans can watch the world number 4 for only Dh55 for the first three days of the tournament, which gets underway on 17th February and features one of the best fields ever to compete in the 20 years of the WTA Tour event.
A year ago, Svitolina attempted to become the first woman to win the title in three consecutive seasons but fell short when she was defeated in the semi-finals by Bencic, who this week is celebrating her climb to a career-high 5 in the world. Svitolina served for victory against her at 5-4 in the final set and then saved three match points at 6-5 before being outplayed in the tiebreak in what was one of the most exciting battles of the tournament.
Despite that disappointment she could look back with pride on what was another outstanding season. Svitolina had begun it by reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals before losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka, and after reaching the semi-finals in Doha and competing in Dubai she reached the semi-finals at Indian Wells. A nagging knee problem then led to her losing her opening match in Miami and to her taking a break from competition to let it heal.
It took her a while to get back into top gear as she lost in the first round in Madrid, and then in Rome where she was also the two-time defending champion, and although she reached the third round at Roland Garros she fell in the first round both in Birmingham and Eastbourne. But she was clearly back to her best at Wimbledon where she reached the first Grand Slam semi-final of her career before losing eventual champion Simona Halep.
She had been very much out of the spotlight at the All England Club, and that suited her just fine.
"Everyone was watching other matches, other players," she said after her run to the final four. "Before, like going into Roland-Garros a couple of times, I had lots of expectations, lots of pressure. Here I just had probably the pressure from myself. I handled it pretty good. It was just about trying to find my game, trying to enjoy. Yeah, don't think too much about what can happen."
But as she approached her career milestone that wasn't so easy. Tension was only natural as she drew close to that first semi-final, but she found a way to overcome it. "You just try to think about different things," she said. "If you start to think about it's the first time semi-final, (I was) like, stop it. Let's think what I'm going to have for dinner."
More good things were to come, as after reaching the quarter-finals in Toronto by avenging her Dubai defeat by Bencic, she advanced all the way to the semifinals of the US Open, falling there to Serena Williams. She ended the season with quarter-finals in Wuhan and Beijing before enjoying a run all the way to the final of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, defeating Sofia Kenin, Halep and world number two Karolina Pliskova in the Group Stage before beating Bencic again in the semi-finals. It took world number one Ashleigh Barty to deny her the title.
She will now be looking to kick start her season after falling in the first round in Brisbane and then losing in the third round of the Australian Open to eventual finalist Garbine Muguruza.
During last season, when she was struggling to return to top form, Svitolina forgot her own problems and became a good samaritan to promising teenager and fellow Ukrainian Daria Lopatetska who in just her second year as a professional had already climbed to 231 on the WTA Tour rankings. Her knee gave out at an ITF event in Rome and she needed funding for an emergency operation on her meniscus, and as her family tried desperately to raise the necessary funds Svitolina stepped in to cover the ?12,000 cost of the surgery.
"We have enjoyed many fine performances from Elina Svitolina and are delighted to welcome her to Dubai once again," said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. "Although she was unable to claim her third title here last year she will once again be a favourite to lift the trophy."
Tournament director Salah Tahlak added, "Elina Svitolina will certainly be a leading contender for the title, even though she faces a field that includes so many other members of the top 10 who are just as eager as her to claim the trophy. She has often shown though that she is one of the toughest competitors on the WTA Tour and we very much look forward to seeing her again."
Australian Open semi-finalist Ashleigh Barty has been forced to withdraw with an injury, but the 20th anniversary celebrations of the WTA event still includes three reigning Grand Slam champions.
"Unfortunately I am withdrawing from the Dubai Duty Free Championships due to a right foot injury," said a disappointed Barty. "Best wishes to the players and tournament on a great week and I look forward to playing in Dubai soon."
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, begins with the WTA event which runs from 17th to 22nd February and features Wimbledon winner Simona Halep, US Open champion Bianca Andreescu and Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin. The tournament then continues between 24th and 29th February with the ATP event which stars reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, eight-time Dubai champion Roger Federer, 2019 ATP Finals winner Stefanos Tsitsipas and 2018 Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut.
Tickets for the 17th - 29th February tournament are available at www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com
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