Elina Svitolina is through to the final 16 Elina Svitolina is through to the final 16

Svitolina ends teen's dream run

Match Report

Tennis’ latest wondergirl, Marta Kostyuk, likes to talk of what will happen when she grows up, and the 15-year-old qualifier was reminded on Friday there is still plenty of maturing to do. The No.1 Ukrainian, Elina Svitolina, dominated the compatriot who may one day dethrone her, but that time is not here yet.

What did she learn? "Well, a lot,'' smiled Kostyuk, whose next match will be in the junior doubles, before a holiday and then a trip to Canberra to make her Fed Cup debut against Australia. "How much you have to pay Svitolina to have one-hour lesson, so I got it for free.'' 

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And in particular? "Well, she's great player, but what I learn is that you can play against everyone. I had the chances, but because I thought, like, 'she is incredible', like, 'she's a god', I cannot do anything against her, that's the problem.''  

Another issue was the extreme heat, and Kostyuk admitted she was in tears afterwards, crying as she would have had she lost from match point up, rather than going down 6-2 6-2. Her mother and coach, former pro Talina Beyko, was swift with the reassurance. "She said 'Marta, you are good. Nothing bad happened','' said Kostyuk, attributing her emotional reaction to the fact she felt she had not showed "maybe even 10 per cent of what I can.''

19 Jan 18
Match highlights from the third round of Women's Singles action on Day 5.

Elina Svitolina def. Marta Kostyuk match highlights (3R)


Yet the tennis world has had a exciting glimpse of her ability, as Kostyuk’s stellar efforts against 25th seed Shuai Peng and Australian Olivia Rogowska on her tour-level debut made her the youngest member of the third round at Melbourne Park since Martina Hingis reached the quarterfinals back in 1996. Her inability to advance further leaves intact Anna Kournikova’s long reign as the youngest player to feature among the last 16 at a Grand Slam, also achieved more than 20 years ago.

Svitolina acknowledged it was a shame to play party pooper after the 6-2 6-2 romp, but the world No.4 was not just the one with everything to lose, but carried in a fierce determination not to be upstaged. The draw is wide open for the only seed left in her quarter, and another qualifier, Czech Denisa Allertova next in her path.

"It’s very very special for me. I always love coming to the Australian Open, but I never went further than the third round," said Svitolina, who won five of her 10 career titles last season and then opened 2018 with another at the Brisbane International. 

"I cannot be more prepared than I am now. I had an amazing run in Brisbane. Good tennis for me. I was very happy I could start the year with the win. Yeah, just enjoying myself on court. Every match is a big challenge for everyone in a Grand Slam. And, you know, I'm just gonna go out there and do my best and be ready for my next match."

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Svitolina had been feeling unwell when taken to three sets by Katerina Siniakova in the previous round, and the extreme Friday heat on Rod Laver Arena would have been enough to make anyone feel unwell. As, it must be said, would the prospect of losing to an upstart eight years your junior who plays under the same national flag.

It was Svitolina who started more shakily, when it may have been more understandable if it was the debutant showing the nerves. The kid broke to love in the opening game, but then immediately dropped her own serve, and the senior citizen - everything being relative, for she is still just 23 - then won five of the next six games, and, eventually the match in just under an hour.

Unforced errors
31 Marta Kostyuk
11 Elina Svitolina

There were flashes of brilliance from Kostyuk, whose only other appearance on Melbourne Park’s showcase court was in last year’s triumphant junior final. Svitolina also won a major at a young age - as a 15-year-old at the French - without attracting the rave reviews that Kostyuk has drawn at the same stage.

But it was consistency, steadiness, and ruthless efficiency that got the job done in brutal weather conditions, against a confident young breakout star from whom much more will be heard. Indeed, the first time Croatian-based Kostyuk came to Svitolina’s attention was only 12 months ago.

After an unfortunate ninth double-fault ended Friday's contest, the Ukranians embraced warmly at the net, the elder proud of the younger, and enjoying an experience to savour. "She did an amazing job here,'' Svitolina said.

"Winning one match in qualifying is already good. Winning two matches is, like, awesome. Three matches, passing qualifying, is something unbelievable, and then beating two girls playing good level.

"I think she remember this moment for all her life. So that's why, you know, it was very special. Of course, it was a little bit, like, strange for me to play against her in the third round, but in the same time, it's, you know, I think it's very special. Yeah, a moment for both of us.''