SINGAPORE, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Elina Svitolina believes her improved mental and physical toughness helped her pull through a tricky three-setter against Kiki Bertens as the Ukrainian advanced to her first WTA Finals title match with a gutsy 7-5 6-7(5) 6-4 triumph on Saturday.
“I think physically I was a little bit stronger, and mentally I pushed myself a little bit more. It’s tough to say, because only a few points decided the third set because we were both playing good tennis,” the 24-year-old told reporters.
“It was up-and-down but that’s kind of expected because it’s the semi-final of a championships. I was very happy with the way I could come back and into the match after losing the second set because I had my chances,” she added.
“Then I lost that second game in the third set where I was just struggling a little bit but bounced back straightaway. I think that made the big difference.
“In the end, it’s the small details that really matter the most. That’s why I finished with a win today.”
A year ago, Svitolina qualified for her first WTA Finals thanks to five tournament wins in the season, but after she crashed out in the group stage, she knew work was needed to express herself better on court against the very best players.
“I worked on my mental toughness and that’s pretty much what helped me to go through the (Caroline) Wozniacki match and today’s match,” added Svitolina, who won all three group ties but needed to take a set off the Dane to ensure qualification to the semi-finals.
“Every match here, starting from (Petra) Kvitova, I had to stay really strong, because I lost many times against her,” she added of her seven-match losing streak to the Czech. “And I definitely didn’t want to start the same way as I started last year.
“So far I’m playing great but the job is not done yet. So tomorrow is going to be another challenge and I want to play at the same level,” she said ahead of Sunday’s final against Sloane Stephens.
Svitolina added that criticism of a poor second half to her season had given the Ukrainian added motivation to perform well in Singapore.
“There was lots of talk about my second part of the season and my performance lately, so this really motivated me,” she added.
“When I qualified for this tournament, I definitely decided that I’m just going to go for it and I know I’m good enough, so I’m going to trust my game, trust myself.
“And here I am in the final. It’s something that really matters to me and is a really special moment. I think definitely for the future it’s something that I can be proud of.” (Editing by John O’Brien, Editing by Neville Dalton)