Svitolina pushed all the way by Zhang

Match Report

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.

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19 Jan 19
Elina Svitolina on-court interview (3R).

Elina Svitolina on-court interview

Video

“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.

MORE: AO2019 women’s singles results

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

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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.”