On the surface, Heather Watson and Elina Svitolina are contrasts in character.
Watson is soft spoken with a native command of the English language. Svitolina is a more dynamic personality, with solid command of English, though her native language is Ukrainian.
But they’re not without their similarities. Both play right-handed, have two career titles, and have bright futures ahead, if they remain competitive, healthy, and continue improving their on-court consistency. The Australian Open seems to bring out their finest tennis; third round finishes Down Under are their best Grand Slam results.
On Sunday, both scored big wins at the BNP Paribas Open.
The British No. 1 stirred fans inside Stadium Court 1 with the biggest upset of the tournament, defeating the No. 7 seed and 2014 finalist, Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4, 6-4. Watson had never beaten a Top 10 player; and, she lost to Radwanska here last year when she, “wiped [Watson] off the court.”
“I’m definitely happy that I won today,” she said. “I feel my tennis, as the tournament has been getting better and better. I knew I’d have to play extremely well today and be patient and pull the trigger at the right time. I think I found that balance very well today.”
Visibly pleased during her post-match press, Watson explained what made the difference against the former World No. 2.
“I have had a lot of close matches with Top 10 players,” she began. “I knew I had the tennis in me, but I just needed the belief.”
Watson let go of who she was playing, deciding to focus on her tennis instead.
“I’m always trying to learn every time I play somebody, especially when I lose,” she said. “I feel like playing her, I have definitely gotten better. But I just made a massive step today.”
The World No. 43 has had a solid start to the season, winning her first event of 2015 at Hobart, and went up a quick set and 2-0 today, only to see the Pole reel off four straight games to grab the lead. However, the Brit reversed the momentum once more and won the next four games.
She capped off the victory at love.
Radwanska complimented Watson on her play, “I thought she was serving really well in the important moments. I had some break points that could have made things different, but she was too solid.”
Watson’s career hasn’t been smooth sailing. She missed two months in the spring of 2013 due to a glandular fever, sitting out on Miami and Roland Garros. In 2014, she struggled with a nagging right rib injury, yet still managed high-profile wins over Flavia Pennetta in Eastbourne and Dominika Cibulkova in Montreal.
With Laura Robson still sidelined by a wrist injury, and pulling out of an expected Miami return, Watson remains the No. 1 woman in Great Britain. She will meet No. 12 seed Carla Suarez Navarro (Watson leads 1-0) or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
“I don’t think I have played Anastasia before,” Watson added. “Diego [Watson’s coach] is out there watching the match. I’m a player that thinks a lot, so I always have a game plan. I don’t always play in a certain way. I make sure I do my homework the night before.”
Svitolina doesn’t seem like a player that does homework, but as a professional tennis player, she must do what she can to stay on top of her competition. She is the second-youngest player in the Top 20, behind Madison Keys. Sunday’s win over the in-form Lucie Safarova bests her previous two performances here in Indian Wells, but shows steady progress. In 2013, she lost in the first round; in 2014, she lost in round two.
With her 7-6(5), 7-5 victory today over No. 10-seed, Svitolina has nine wins over Top 20 players.
The two women struggled to settle in at the start of their match; errors were quickly piling up on both sides of the net. However, the Doha champion went up a quick break and seemed to be in control. In the seventh game, Svitolina cracked a down-the-line backhand winner, which seemed to knock the Czech off her game.
“It was tough from the start,” Svitolina explained, her eyes shaded by a black baseball cap. “I think both was a bit nervous. The ball was flying from both sides.”
The No. 23 seed also spoke on the difficulties that come with playing a lefty like Safarova.
“It’s really tough to play against left handed,” she said, smiling. “[I] always struggle a bit when I see in the draw. Maybe I’m just extra focused when I play against them. But, it’s always tough and tricky to play against left-handed because they have different speed and spin on the ball.”
Svitolina has had back-to-back wins over lefty Angelique Kerber, in Wuhan and early this year in Bribane. Another casualty has been Petra Kvitova, currently No. 4 in the world. She fell to the Ukrainian 20-year-old in Cincinnati last summer in the second round.
Svitolina was seeded to played Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova in the third round – another lefty – but Timea Bacsinszky authored the second Top 10 upset of the day in three tough sets, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
All players make goals for the year; the Ukrainian youngster would like to be amongst the Top 15.
“Off-season, I was working more on my footwork,” she said. “For now it’s the most important thing, to move my feet better and to go with the ball more forward. I’m moving much better. I have been watching a lot of matches with my coach in Brisbane and Australian Open, so I improved a lot.”
Another goal for the year: to buy a car – a Porsche, no less. When she’s not engulfed in her career, Svitolina likes to drive. Apparently it’s easier to do in at home: “You don’t have rules like here in the States. You can do many things in Ukraine while you’re driving.
“But you just need to be careful that police doesn’t see you!”
What did you think of today’s upsets in the desert? Sound off in the comments!