TORONTO – Caroline Wozniacki and Elina Svitolina advanced to the Rogers Cup final with convincing victories Saturday.
Wozniacki handled Sloane Stephens in straight sets, while Svitolina had to first come back from a set down to beat Garbine Muguruza in a rained-out quarterfinal carried over from Friday night, before later running roughshod over defending champion Simona Halep.
Woz stymies another big hitter
Stephens was playing in just her third tournament since missing nearly a year with a foot injury, but she found her form in Toronto, moving fluidly and hitting through her shots. Wozniacki ended her run with a 6-2, 6-3 win that she conceded was closer than the scoreline indicated. Stephens made her work, hanging in long rallies and moving her around while generating a ton of pace from the baseline.
But, as she’d done against Karolina Pliskova in the quarters Friday, Wozniacki managed to fluster and neutralize a more powerful opponent with dogged defense, consistency, well-spotted serves, and opportunistic attacking. She committed just 11 unforced errors compared to 41 for Stephens, and once again won the serving battle, out-acing Stephens and winning a significantly higher percentage of first-serve points. In perhaps the stat of the match, Wozniacki won 76 percent of points played on Stephens’ second serve.
Despite the loss, Stephens had nothing but positive takeaways from the tournament.
“I didn’t really have high expectations when I started playing again,” she said. “So for this to be my third tournament back and playing like this, I mean, I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Stephens apparently wasn’t the only one who came in with low expectations. Wozniacki won this event back in 2010, but the women played in Montreal that year, and she’d never previously been past the second round in Toronto.
“I know that I’ve been playing really well this year, and beaten a lot of top players,” she said. “But at the same time, with a record like I had here in the past, I wasn’t really expecting too much of myself. Maybe that’s also the key why it’s been going so well, because I just walked in and was more relaxed about the whole thing.”
Svitolina scores a Saturday sweep, Halep hits a wall
Thanks to a washed-out night session Friday night, both Svitolina and Halep had to play two matches Saturday. Svitolina began the day trailing Muguruza by a set in the quarters, but she rallied in a major way, winning all four sets she played thereafter and ending the day by trouncing Halep 6-1, 6-1 in just 56 minutes.
Halep looked strong in defeating Caroline Garcia in straight sets in the morning, but in the hours between that match and her semifinal, she seemed to forget how to hit the ball. From the opening point, she struggled to find the range on her groundstrokes. She sailed routine shots long, and even when she found the court, she couldn’t muster any pace, as she failed to catch the ball in the middle of her strings. Whether it was nerves, or fatigue from the double-header, or some other intangible factor, nothing went right for the defending champ.
“I really don’t know,” Halep said. “If you can analyze this match, I will be happy to listen. But I have no words. I just didn’t feel the ball, and I couldn’t play.”
There wasn’t much else to say about the match. Svitolina was as good as she needed to be, keeping the ball in play, keeping it deep, and allowing Halep to beat herself. With the win, the fifth-ranked Ukrainian exacted a measure of revenge for the toughest loss of her career – the French Open quarterfinal two months ago in which Halep came back from a set and 5-1 down to beat her.
Svitolina applied some lessons from that match, determined not to let her focus slip even as she built a seemingly insurmountable lead.
“From the first point today till the last point, I was very focused, just 100 percent on every ball,” she said. “And I think I just learned. I learned from that experience that you need to play until the last point and, you know, just one point at a time.”
Wozniacki and Svitolina will play for the title Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET, in their third meeting of the season. Svitolina won their first two matches, including the Dubai final.
It will be a different kind of challenge than the past couple matches for Wozniacki. Svitolina is less of a power player and more of a counter-puncher, like her. Neither player is liable to give away points, and the onus will be on one of them to step up and be assertive.
Svitolina comes in looking for her tour-leading fifth title of the season, having gone 4-for-4 in 2017 finals so far. It’s been the opposite story for Wozniacki, who will be playing in her sixth final of the year but searching for her first victory. She says the five finals losses don’t weigh on her, though.
“Not unless I get asked about it,” she joked, after being asked about it. “I put myself in great positions, and I’m going to try and make the most of it tomorrow.”