Elina Svitolina booked her place in the third round of the Olympic Tennis event in Rio after a three sets win over Britain’s Heather Watson. In a performance of peaks and troughs, the Ukrainian overcame a fightback from the world number 66 to win 6-3, 1-6, 6-3.
Prior to this match the British number two had to really battle to earn her spot in the second round at the games in Rio, coming through a tough three set match against China’s Shuai Peng 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3. Her opponent today, ranked at 20 in the world also had a tough opening match, with Svitolina outlasting Andrea Petkovic in three sets 2-6, 6-1, 6-3. Watson had won both of the pairs’ previous meetings, which all came in 2015, beginning with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the Fed Cup on the hard courts before winning from a set down again on the grass in Eastbourne 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Fast start from the 15th seed
Both players held their opening service games but it was the Brit who stumbled first. Watson, playing on Court 4 where compatriot Kyle Edmund had lost earlier, saved one break point in her next service game after forcing her opponent to hit a forehand long, but a loose forehand wide into the tramlines when facing a second break point saw her drop serve to fall 3-1 behind.
Svitolina, seeded 15 at the games, was looking to press home her advantage but an erratic double fault put her under pressure at 30-30. Frustratingly for Watson, her next two forehands could only find the net as the Ukrainian raced into a 4-1 lead after 19 minutes.
Another forehand unforced error in the following game from the Brit put her under pressure on serve once more at 30-30. Watson responded well, outlasting her opponent in an extended rally, finishing the point off with an overhead smash winner, before then striking a sweet backhand down the line winner to hold serve.
A loose backhand landed long from Svitolina to leave herself 0-30 down before Watson put her under even more pressure on serve as the Brit struck a drop volley winner to bring up three break back point. The world number 66 needed just the one chance as won her sixth point in a row to move just one game behind.
After working so hard to get back into the set Watson played a very loose service game of her own as the errors quickly mounted up before moving 0-40 down. Two missed returns from the 15th seed have the Brit renewed hope, but the Ukrainian was not to be denied on her third break point chance, finishing the point off up at the net.
The Brit had not given up on the set yet, moving to 0-40 on her opponents’ serve for the second successive time. Watson missed the first chance with a return long and a second with a forehand wide. A netted forehand saw the British number two squander a third chance before making another unforced error to seal the first set for Svitolina 6-3 in 37 minutes.
The Brit swiftly fights back
Watson quickly shook off the disappointment of losing the opening set as she gained break point chances for the Ukrainian’s third service game in a row. Unlike in the previous game the Brit took her chance this time, quickly racing into a 3-0 lead.
Svitolina could not buy an easy service hold at this point, falling behind 0-30 again before a missed return from Watson gave her a foothold in the game. The Brit made no mistake on her next return, punishing a second serve with a forehand down the line winner on her way to securing yet another break.
The Ukrainian looked to be on the ropes as Watson moved to two game points in the fifth game, but a drop shot winner and crosscourt forehand return winner helped move her to break point. The Brit snuffed out the chance with a measured backhand cross-court winner, but subsequently produced a couple of unforced errors to relinquish one of the breaks of serve.
Watson gave her opponent yet more to think about on her serve as a Svitolina double fault followed by a drop shot winner moved the Brit back to 30-30. The pressure proved to be telling as the 15th seed dropped serve for the third time in a row after hitting a sixth double fault for the match before netting a backhand.
When serving for the set the Brit looked confident despite being pegged back to 30-30, closing out the game to take the set 6-1 in 28 minutes.
The momentum swings back the Ukrainian’s way
After Svitolina took a long toilet break it appeared to have quelled Watson’s momentum, as the 15th seed held for the first time since serving out the opening set. The Brit responded in just as impressive fashion, striking a forehand down the line winner to seal a hold to love.
Svitolina made back to back errors as she looked to force the issue on her own serve, having to face a break point as a result. The Brit missed the opportunity with a forehand into the net, but a backhand wide from the 15th seed gave Watson a second chance. Another opportunity agonisingly passed the Brit by as the world number 20’s cross-court forehand found the line, enabling her to go on to hold and move 2-1 ahead.
After a series of service holds it was Watson who cracked first, slicing an attempted drop shot wide to drop serve and hand the Ukrainian a 4-2 lead. The Brit had half a chance in the next game to break back at 30-30 and deuce, but ill-timed unforced errors let the opportunity slip by.
That proved to be the Brit’s last chance as Svitolina held on to secure the match and book her place in the third round 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. She awaits the winner of the match between Serena Williams and Alize Cornet.