Elina Svitolina has long established herself as one of the best players in the world. At the peak of her powers, scaling as high as No 3, Svitolina won numerous titles, beating nearly every prominent player and carving out a brilliant career for herself.
However, her performance in grand slam tournaments has not been as formidable as in the previous eight months since her comeback from maternity leave. Svitolina’s style of play has always been overly cautious against top-ranked opponents in major tournaments, but she came back with a newfound determination to take charge and display more courage on the court.
After a spectacular comeback season last year, Svitolina landed in the chaotic half of the Australian Open draw with a clear opportunity to reach her first grand slam final. Instead, within minutes of her fourth round match, Svitolina’s hopes were gone.
During the match between Svitolina and Linda Noskova, Svitolina had to withdraw due to a back injury when she was losing with a score of 0-3.
Svitolina stated that she believed she was following all the correct steps. She had a successful off-season and has been dedicated to her training. However, she experienced an unexpected setback. It wasn’t a gradual occurrence as she did not anticipate it due to any pre-existing back pain. It seemingly appeared out of the blue.
Last year, Svitolina returned after giving birth to her daughter, Skaï, in incredible form. After a rousing run to the quarter-finals of the French Open in her first grand slam tournament back, she immediately followed it up with the best grand slam run of her career, defeating Iga Świątek en-route to the Wimbledon semi-finals.
At the age of 29, she came back from exhaustion and taking time off for maternity, and also rose to prominence as a notable public figure in her country following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine. As the season came to a close, Svitolina was recognized as the WTA Comeback Player of the Year.
Despite being forced to end her season early due to a stress fracture in her ankle, Svitolina showed strong performance at the beginning of the new season.
She kicked off her season by making it to the finals in Auckland, but ultimately lost a close three-set match to Coco Gauff. Despite the loss, she entered the Australian Open with high spirits and had only dropped 13 games in three rounds as other top seeds were eliminated.
After playing only one game in her fourth round against Noskova, all of her hard work and preparation for a successful performance were rendered useless as she faced one of the harsh truths of being an elite athlete – getting injured.
After playing a long opening game on her serve against Noskova, Svitolina experienced intense pains in her back. She requested a medical time out after the following game, but ultimately had to retire when she realized she could not continue serving.
An hour had passed when she tearfully shared her shock and annoyance over an unexpected injury, despite the tears in her eyes.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced this type of piercing pain before,” she stated. “I’ve had previous back injuries where I just felt fatigued the day after a match, but this one came out of nowhere. It felt as though someone had fired a gun into my back.”
By early afternoon, the top half of the women’s draw became completely unpredictable and open. Following Svitolina’s withdrawal, Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastremska defeated two-time champion Victoria Azarenka with a determined performance on Rod Laver Arena, winning 7-6 (8-6), 6-4.
Azarenka’s exit means that there will be a new finalist in the upper half of this year’s Australian Open draw. The 12th seed, Zheng Qinwen, is now the highest-ranked player in this section of the draw.
As the new season began, it appeared that a definite ranking had been formed among the top players in women’s tennis, with Iga Świątek and Aryna Sabalenka leading the pack and consistently performing well. However, this hierarchy has now quickly crumbled.
The initial portion of the opening major tennis event of the year has resembled a return to a beloved aspect of the WTA circuit: delightful, captivating disorder.
Noskova remarked that this is the first major tournament of the year. She caused a major upset in the tournament by defeating top seed Swiatek. She acknowledged that it can be difficult for all players, especially those seeded, to maintain their performance and play according to their potential. However, she also acknowledged that in a tournament of this caliber, unexpected things can occur.
During the quarter-finals, Noskova and Yastremska will demonstrate the vast potential within any draw as they battle for a spot in the Australian Open quarter-finals.