When you get the top eight players in the world this season – well, eight of nine, with the absence of the injured Simona Halep – it’s hard to consider any loss a true upset.
That’s valid even if the winner is seeded lower than the player she defeated. Because in the big picue, they’re all top-10 players.
Still, the opening night at the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore Sunday did produce two … surprises.
First up to open the event, in its last go-round in Singapore, China were No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and No. 6 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.
Two factors were working against Svitolina coming in. The first was that her head-to-head against Kvitova was 1-7. And after Svitolina defeated the Czech in their first career meeting in Cincinnati in 2014, Kvitova has dropped just one set in those seven victories.
The second issue was that second half of the 24-year-old’s season has been a struggle. The Rome champion couldn’t cement her spot in the final eight until the very last minute.
The stat sheet might have been a bit of a mess, but Svitolina came out at the top end of a 6-3, 6-3 score that gets her tournament off to a great start.
“Winning this match definitely gives me lots of confidence. I want to take this as one to go forward, and for all those people and haters that were saying that I don’t deserve to be here and I’m, you know, not good,” Svitolina told the media in Singapore. “Until the next match, I can really enjoy this win.”
Players don’t often bring up the abuse they get on social media, unless specifically asked about it. But Svitolina brought up the haters.
Her Instagram account is inexplicably full of nastiness on a regular basis. Some might be because she’s struggled to win matches lately, so the gamblers are on her. Some of it is because while she’s not Russian, she’s close by. But it boggles the imagination to think anyone could have that much hate for this charming , hard-working pro.
For Kvitova, who can be brilliant one day and error-prone the next, it was a matter of being more the latter.
Calf-strapped Pliskova beats Wozniacki
In the Sunday nightcap, Karolina Pliskova was all over defending Singapore champion Caroline Wozniacki.
The 6-2, 6-4 victory, a score that makes it look closer than it felt, was made more respectable at the end by Wozniacki’s trademark never-quit work ethic.
“Especially against Caroline, you really have to beat her because she’s not gonna give you anything much. Although she was missing pretty much everything in the first set, in the second set she played much better, and I had to really fight for it. I was just happy that I close it,” Pliskova said.
Pliskova, who had her right leg wrapped from just below the knee down to mid-calf, was as solid as could be.
She saved all 10 break-point chances against her own serve, and converted on 3-of-10 on Wozniacki’s serve.
“I had some break points, and I didn’t make it, and so I was getting a little bit frustrated with myself. I was, like, ‘Maybe that’s the time to call her, the positive woman,’ Pliskova joked about Aussie Rennae Stubbs, who is back in her corner this week and apparently into 2019. “And she was actually positive, as always. She said, ‘Look, you’re still break up,’ which was true, actually. So I didn’t panic and I closed it.”
This was another rivalry that was technically tilted in favour of the runner-up, who was seeded No. 7 to Wozniacki’s No. 2.
Although after Wozniacki took their first three meetings (all in three sets), they’ve been trading the honors back and forth.
After not meeting for three years, the two met six times in 2017, the most recent of which came in the Singapore semifinals a year ago. Wozniacki won that one on her way to the title.
That was the last time they played each other.
More match tough
If there was a connecting thread between Pliskova and Svitolina, it was that because both only qualified a few days ago, they have played plenty of tennis over the last few weeks.
That was not the case for Kvitova and Wozniacki, who wrapped up their spots earlier.
Kvitova last played in Beijing three weeks ago. And she has played just three matches since the US Open. Wozniacki played a full three-tournament Asian swing, and ran through the field without dropping a set to win the Premier Mandatory in Beijing (although she didn’t have to defeat anyone inside the top 20).
But that was more than two weeks ago. And she went home in between.
Pliskova believes the last-minute play is a net positive even with the rushed arrival and limited time to get over jet lag, or even to practice on these specific courts.
“You always feel better by coming on the court by having a lot of matches in the last few weeks. So I feel like that’s important, but not only with me but I think with everybody. It’s true that when Domi (Cibulkova) won, she was playing until the last moment, (Caroline) Garcia, (Svetlana) Kuznetsova, too,” Pliskova said.
“There is a lot of indoor tournaments the weeks before, so you can really get used to it here, and the matches can really help you to get the confidence back from just playing. Knowing you have to play three matches can help, too.”
Pliskova and Svitolina will meet on Tuesday, preceded by Kvitova and Wozniacki.
The Czech holds a 5-2 head-to-head, going all the way back to 2011. But Svitolina has won the last two.
There reportedly was a scary moment during Svitolina’s press conference, where she had to leave the room for a brief period after suffering what was described as “lightheadedness”.
(All screenshots from WTAtv).