Sixth seed Elina Svitolina let out a primal roar in relief and elation after overcoming injury and a 3-0 third-set deficit to fight her way into the Australian Open fourth round in Melbourne.
The Ukrainian required a medical time-out and several courtside massages for a shoulder complaint before defeating China’s Zhang Shuai 4-6 6-4 7-5 in an epic lasting almost three hours on Saturday.
In a touching display of sportsmanship, Svitolina then fetched a Gatorade for her vanquished and spent opponent before revealing how she mustered the energy to battle back from the brink at Rod Laver Arena.
“It was very hot conditions so I was a little bit struggling. We left everything on court today,” Svitolina said after finally converting her third match point.
“I just kept telling myself: ‘I am going to die or going to win’. So it was just a mental game and I had to stay strong. I was fighting ’til the very last point and trying to stay out there as long as possible.”
One of six players who could potentially dethrone Simona Halep as world No.1 next week, Svitolina will next face Madison Keys, who in their last meeting recovered from 4-2 down in the third set to win at the same stage of the 2017 US Open.
Keys on Saturday beat Elise Mertens, who conquered Svitolina in the quarters at Melbourne Park last year.
“I don’t really want to think about it now, but we all know she (Keys) hits the ball very strong,” Svitolina said.
“It’s not a big surprise for anyone. Have to be ready for those kind of balls.
“When I lost the first set (against Zhang), I thought, okay, I had these kind of matches in Singapore, and I went through them with a win. So that’s why I’m just gonna be out there, stay solid and the best line, and try to earn my chances. And in the end, you know, it worked.
“Definitely that Singapore tournament (WTA Finals) gave me a lot of confidence in that particular area.
“That’s the way I have to play.”
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