NEW YORK (Reuters) – Olympic bronze medallist Elina Svitolina stepped up her bid to secure a first major title when she produced a ruthless performance to dispatch Simona Halep 6-3 6-3 in the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Sunday.
Following the shock exits of pre-tournament favourites Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka, fifth seed Svitolina will be among those whose chances of triumphing at Flushing Meadows have been boosted and she made sure she stayed in the hunt by getting rid of another multiple Grand Slam champion.
The 12th-seeded Halep, who triumphed at the French Open in 2018 and at Wimbledon a year later, won an epic 33-shot rally in the second game but a dozen unforced errors in the first set handed Svitolina the upper hand.
With the set tied 3-3, the Ukrainian fended off two break points to hold serve, prompting the frustrated Romanian to fling her racquet to the ground.
“In the first set the key game was coming back from 15-40 at 3-All. It was really important to take one point at a time and fight to come back,” Svitolina said. “I think it was really strong performance from me on the important moments.”
Svitolina kept up the momentum in the second set, producing three aces and winning more than 80% of her first-serve points.
She survived a number of long rallies to break the two-time Grand Slam winner’s serve in the seventh game on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The Tokyo bronze medallist said she was thrilled to topple “big fighter” Halep as she hopes to reach her first Grand Slam final at Flushing Meadows.
“We really missed you guys,” Svitolina told the fans. “It’s an unbelievable atmosphere each time… I have goosebumps right now.”
The 2019 semi-finalist has yet to drop a set at Flushing Meadows this year, and is on an eight-match winning streak after triumphing in Chicago last month.
“I’m playing really aggressive right now. I think the most aggressive I’ve ever been, making lots of winners, serving really good,” she said. “I want to keep this going, feeling that I’m in a good mind.”
Halep, who missed the French Open, Wimbledon, the Olympics after tearing a calf muscle in May, said she felt positive about her performance after getting little playing time in the run up to the year’s final major.
“No pain, no injury. So this is the most important thing,” said Halep, adding that she would speak with her doctors before deciding whether to compete at Indian Wells next month.
“I need a little bit of rest and to reflect a little bit what I have to do better next time against her because always it’s been a tough match with her.”
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York, editing by Pritha Sarkar)