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Devastated Svitolina finds positives after injury ends her AO 2024

  • Matt Trollope

It was a bittersweet moment for Czech teen Linda Noskova, who secured her place in a first career major quarterfinal.

The 19-year-old, who had stunned world No.1 Iga Swiatek under lights at Rod Laver Arena in the previous round, was leading 3-0 before a hampered Elina Svitolina ended the match in tears with a back injury.

MORE: All the scores from Australian Open 2024

“It's tough to say after three games, but I'm glad to be in such a round in such a tournament,” said Noskova, who will go on to face Svitolina’s fellow Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska for a place in the semifinals. 

“I was physically and mentally prepared for a match, so obviously a little sad it had to end this way, but I hope Elina gets well really soon.”

It was more bitter than sweet for Svitolina, who retired from a Grand Slam match for the first time in her career.

After losing a marathon opening game spanning seven deuces, Svitolina advanced on a short ball early in the second game and pulled up gingerly after a forehand; when she went down 2-0, she called for a medical time-out, indicating to the physio she’d pinched something in her lower back.

She received treatment, but lost the subsequent game and teared up as she realised she couldn’t continue, retiring at the net where she was hugged by Noskova.

There are silver linings for Svitolina – such as a projected return to the world’s top 20 – after yet another trip to the second week of a Grand Slam tournament in her comeback as a mother.

But making this outcome especially galling was the fact she felt she was playing well enough to possibly go further at AO 2024.

“This one I think I never had that before, the shooting pain like this,” said Svitolina, who had dropped only 13 games en route to the fourth round.

“I had some injuries to my back before where it just was tiredness the next day of the match, but this one was really out of nowhere. I felt like someone shot me in the back.

“I had good matches here. I was in good form. That's why it's even more disappointing. It's tough now to find positives really, but I feel like I had good matches, good wins, and I enjoyed my time on the court.

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“Not today, unfortunately, but the matches before I did really.”

Svitolina was visibly emotional throughout her press conference, and revealed her back was still badly locked up after coming off court. She said she was wary of the long flight home and would get a scan upon returning and focus on her recovery, before hopefully resuming training in a week.

It was another injury blow, given an ankle stress fracture ruled her out for the rest of the 2023 season after the US Open. 

Considering that, after giving birth to daughter Skai, she only returned to the tour in April at Charleston, Svitolina was able to acknowledge she had plenty of which to be proud.

She has risen rapidly in the sport after winning the Strasbourg title, reaching the Roland Garros quarterfinals, and the semis at Wimbledon. She opened 2024 by appearing in the Auckland final before a last 16 showing at the AO – her fourth trip to this stage at Melbourne Park.

“I'm proud of the work and of the stressful situations, and how I've been handling them on the court because this was the most I would say difficult for me as a comeback,” the 29-year-old said.

“I was at the beginning not dealing really well with the stressful situations like the score-wise. Now I feel like I'm much better. I've been playing good matches, beating good players. I feel like I'm at a good place and been playing really well when I was down.

“Coming back, fighting spirit, everything is back. I feel like I'm striking the ball well.

“The only thing I wish is my health would be better. Before, my health was quite stable. I never really had a long-term injury. Now, yeah.”

Noskova, meanwhile, returns to Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday for her quarterfinal against Yastremska.

It is the first Grand Slam quarterfinal for both, with Yastremska just the third women’s qualifier – after Angelica Gavaldon and Zhang Shuai – to reach this stage of the tournament at Melbourne Park.