Svitolina pushed all the way by Zhang

  • Dan Imhoff

Elina Svitolina is steeling herself for a second-week push after a stirring comeback to deny China’s Shuai Zhang in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday.

The Ukrainian sixth seed managed a niggling neck injury and scraped her way back from a double break down in the final set to end the world No.42’s bold charge, 4-6 6-4 7-5.

Zhang held a memorable affinity for Melbourne Park as the site of her greatest grand slam run three years ago, when she reached the quarterfinals as a qualifier.

Outside of her 2016 run, the 29-year-old had never passed the third round in any of remaining 25 grand slam campaigns.

But on Saturday, she put herself in a position to reach just her second fourth round at a major with authoritative ball-striking keeping an at-times passive Svitolina struggling.

“It was a great fight today, I think for both of us,” Svitolina said. “I left everything on court today. I just told myself I’m going to die or win so it was just a mental game.

“I just had to stay very strong. I was fighting to the last point and trying to stay out there as long as possible.”

Svitolina hung tough and it paid dividends when at 4-5 in the second set, she unleashed on a short forehand to level at a set all.

She promptly called for a medical timeout at the change of ends to have her neck and right shoulder treated.

And it was a worrying sign when she quickly dropped the first three games upon the resumption of play.

Displaying the tenacity and big-match toughness, which had reaped her biggest title to date at the season-ending WTA Finals in November, Svitolina clawed back one of the breaks to 2-3 before Zhang called for treatment on her lower back.

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The end looked nigh when Svitolina reeled off five straight games only to be broken when serving for the match.

Svitolina's class and composure saw her progress to the fourth round

But Zhang’s late momentum shift was brief.

Svitolina brought up match point on the Chinese player’s serve with a scrambling flicked forehand in behind and finished the job nearing the three-hour mark.

“It was very hot, but I always think that this situation when I'm almost about to die, I think, okay, there is an opponent across the net also struggling, also in the same situation, also running the same amount of hours on the court,” she said.

“So I try to think that way and I'm not alone here in hell. I'm practising for those kind of moments, and I always believe in my physical strength.”