(Photo credit: REUTERS/Tony Gentile)
The 2018 Italian Open Final will be a rematch of last year, with Elina Svitolina once again facing off against Simona Halep. Halep, the world’s #1 ranked player, has had a positive year to date, beginning with a win at the Shenzhen Open before making the final in Melbourne. Svitolina is ranked a couple of spots back at #4, but the 23-year-old also made a good start to the year, winning both the Brisbane International and the Dubai Tennis Championships in the opening months of 2018.
Svitolina’s relative youth means that her and Halep haven’t faced off against one another a whole lot as yet, with the two having matched up only five times throughout their careers. All matches bar one came in 2017. Their first match was a fairly unnoticed first round clash in Sofia five years ago, between a then-little known Halep and a teenaged Svitolina. Halep, the elder by three years, then had the advantage and won comfortably 6-1 6-1.
The first of their matches last year was the aforementioned Rome final. In that match, the first two sets were hard-fought, with neither player giving an inch, but it was Svitolina who finished strongly to win 4-6 7-5 6-1. Perhaps the most memorable match between these two players took place at Roland Garros last year, where they met in the quarterfinals.
Like the Italian Open final, their quarterfinal matchup saw the player who lost the first set storm back to win in three, though this time it was Halep winning 3-6 7-6 6-0. The other two matches between the two were on contested on a hard court, and Svitolina won both in straight sets. The first of these was a 6-1 6-1 victory in the semifinals in Toronto, while the second was an early tournament rout at the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Path to the final
Halep has had a relatively easy run so far throughout this tournament. After opening with a 6-1 6-0 victory over Naomi Osaka of Japan, she had a walkover against Madison Keys. She then cruised past Caroline Garcia in straight sets in the quarterfinals, before being challenged for the first time in the tournament in the semis. There she faced Maria Sharapova, herself formerly the #1 player. Halep lost the first set, before overcoming the Russian 4-6 6-1 6-4.
Svitolina has been challenged a little more, though she too has only lost a solitary set during the tournament. After beginning her tournament with an easy 6-1 6-2 victory over Petra Martic, she was made to work by Daria Kasatkina, who she ultimately beat 0-6 6-3 6-2. She followed that up with straight sets victories over Angelique Kerber and Anett Kontaveit respectively in the last eight and semifinals, though neither match proved an easy outing.
How do they match up?
Both of these players are capable of hitting with a lot of power from the baseline. Halep, in particular, is renowned for her powerful groundstrokes, and her ability to transition instantly between offence and defence is unrivalled in the women's game. Her speed around the court is a vital factor in her success, allowing her to comfortably chase down balls which others would have no chance of reaching, much in the way Novak Djokovic plays on the men’s side.
Svitolina is an all-round talent, demonstrating relatively good speed out on the court, as well as an ability to push her opponents deep behind the baseline with penetrating groundstrokes. Her backhand is a particularly potent weapon, and she is capable of finishing points quickly with her backhand down the line. Because of Halep’s speed, Svitolina will be aware that she needs to hunt for the lines in this final.
Halep will be able to get revenge for her loss in last year’s Italian Open final with a hard fought victory in this game. Svitolina might have a 3-2 career advantage over Halep, but two of these victories were on a hard court, and Halep has shown the better form coming into this match. They’ve both lost just one set so far, but Halep has closed out her straight set victories far quicker than Svitolina. Halep will be too strong for Svitolina in two tight sets.