Elina Svitolina returns as defending champion, but can she really win again at the WTA Finals?

Elina Svitolina is not among the favourites, despite being defending champion (PA Images)
Elina Svitolina is not among the favourites, despite being defending champion (PA Images)
22:19pm, Fri 25 Oct 2019
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Being the champion of a tournament comes with a unique pressure when you go back the next time. You are expected to win, and if you do not it is a disappointment. However, for the defending champion of the WTA Finals, Elina Svitolina, it's not that straightforward.

The 2018 winner only qualified for this year’s edition two weeks ago and because of her current world ranking of eight, she is not expected to reach even the semi-finals, let alone the final.

But, she entered the tournament similarly under the radar last year and shocked the entire field by playing brilliant tennis and going through the week without losing a single match.

In this penultimate part of our ‘Countdown to Shenzhen’ series, we look at how the Ukrainian won last year, but also at what has happened this year which means she will not be among the favourites.

While serve was great, return game made the difference

When looking at the five matches Svitolina played at the WTA Finals last year, there are a couple of reasons that her success can be attributed to.

Her deceptive serve was very effective as an average first serve winning percentage of 65.75% suggests, but more importantly, she was very productive in winning points on her opponent’s serve, as the chart below shows.

Svitolina made a huge impact on the return of her opponents' serve in last year's tournament

This efficiency was shown also on the break points Svitolina had throughout the tournament, as she converted 24 of 51 break points, which is a much higher ratio than her career average.  

This combination of being great on her serve and deadly as a returner proved too strong for the other competitors in Singapore. Can she replicate that type of form this year? The statistics suggest not.

Injuries have hampered her progress  

At different points throughout the year, Svitolina’s right knee has been in pain and she has had to retire from certain matches. This is a key reason why she has not able to push on after winning the biggest title of her career so far at the WTA Finals last year.

An injury to the knee is debilitating to the serve, because of the power generated by the motion of bending the knee. That can be seen in Svitolina’s service hold percentage this year of 68.8%, which is the lowest it has been since 2015.

Added to that, her service break percentage of 39.7% this year is the lowest of her career to date and that can also be attributed to injury not allowing her to play at her free-flowing best.  

While it has been over a month since her latest setback with the knee, it is still unknown how Svitolina will perform and for that reason, it is unlikely that she will defend her title.

Sign up to our newsletter