Dokic: “I definitely don’t think Svitolina deserves criticism”

Published by Matt Trollope

Elina Svitolina in aciton at the WTA Finals in Singapore, where she won the title (Getty Images)
After winning her biggest career title at the recent WTA Finals, Elina Svitolina’s next goal is a maiden Grand Slam trophy. Former world No.4 Jelena Dokic believes it’s only a matter of time until she breaks through.

Elina Svitolina is too talented a player not to experience Grand Slam success.

That’s the view of former Australian player Jelena Dokic, who spoke to Tennismash about the Ukrainian’s prospects of breaking through to win one of the game’s biggest titles.

Svitolina finished the 2018 season at world No.4 after a remarkable run at the WTA Finals in Singapore, where she went undefeated to capture the biggest title of her career.

Dokic believes it could act as a springboard to greater heights in the next year or two.

“I love the way that she plays, and the way she defends, the way she moves. She never really gives up, and I love that about her,” Dokic said.

“I commentated a couple of her matches at this year’s Australian Open and even with a weaker serve, she finds ways to win. She’s always there, she’s never gonna give up until the last point.

“She’s brought a bit of variety to her game, as well. She’s coming to the net, there’s a lot of different things she can do out there on the court. Even though she’s done that in the past, I think she’s stepped it up a notch. I also do think she’s moving very well and she’s very fit.”

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Svitolina’s fitness was the topic of much discussion in the second half of 2018, a period which, until Singapore, the Ukrainian perhaps would have preferred to forget.

She was one of the best-performed players in the first half of the year, scooping Premier-level WTA titles in Brisbane, Dubai and Rome. But then came a slump, accompanied by significant weight-loss, which was noted by many and criticised by more.

In fact, being on the receiving end of criticism – especially on social media – was something of a theme in 2018 for the Ukrainian, and she was keenly aware of it, as she admitted in Singapore.

In addition to her physique, her form slump was scrutinised – especially when she blew a 6-0 4-1 lead in the first round of the China Open to Aleksandra Krunic – as was her continued inability to translate her early-season WTA success to the Grand Slam stage.

Svitolina is 9-0 in her past nine WTA finals and in the past two years is 20-8 against top 10 opponents. Yet she was unable to get past the quarterfinals at any major in 2018, and fell in the first round at Wimbledon and third round at Roland Garros. Three of her four Grand Slam losses came against players ranked outside the top 30.

You could see by her body language and crowd interaction how motivated she was on court at the WTA Finals; perhaps there was an added incentive to silence her critics.

“She’s quite feisty. I actually played her when she came out of juniors the very first time. She was always like that – she was very fiery on the court and I think that’s great. She’s a fighter,” Dokic observed.

“Maybe it’s good that she uses that (negative comments) as a bit of fuel to try and prove people wrong. It shows mental strength.

“If we’re putting this much pressure on someone who’s No.4 in the world, and the only thing she hasn’t done is win a Grand Slam, to be honest with you, it’s not really fair.

“She’s a consistent player. You’ve got some players who were top five last year and this year they’re not even in the top 10. So I definitely don’t think Svitolina deserves the criticism.”

Dokic concedes that some of Svitolina’s struggles at Grand Slam tournaments are mental.

But she also points out that the 24-year-old, like fellow counterpunchers Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber, is occasionally prone to being blown off the court by more powerful opponents, without necessarily doing too much wrong on court herself.

Dokic says it is only a matter of time before Svitolina becomes the latest top player in the women’s game to hoist Grand Slam silverware.

“She’s still in a way, in my opinion, developing,” Dokic said.

“I always feel like the players that have weapons are always going to have an advantage … when you’ve got to back up (at majors) over two weeks of tennis and win seven matches, it can get really hard both physically and mentally. And she was at a bit of a disadvantage there (with her serve).

“I think it’s just a matter of that right moment, similar a little bit to Halep. She played three or four Grand Slam finals before she won one. And don’t forget – Wozniacki won the Australian Open this year for her first Grand Slam after literally trying to win it for 10 years.

“So I think for Svitolina the biggest focus should be those Grand Slams and really trying to regularly make it into that second week. Getting to the quarterfinals, semifinals, and giving herself a chance to get through.”

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