For Elina Svitolina, it’s been a steady progression to get into the game’s upper echelon. Thursday she will know for sure she has arrived when she meets Serena Williams in the semifinals of the U.S. Open.
Svitolina is ranked No. 5 in the world and has won a tour-high nine titles since 2017. The biggest of those was the 2018 WTA Tour championship, beating Sloane Stephens in the final in Singapore.
Svitolina reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon in July, losing to champion Simona Halep. She is the first Ukrainian woman to reach the final four at the U.S. Open, showing a complete game in her quarterfinal win over Johanna Konta.
Now she comes up against the most powerful and accomplished player in the game. At 37, Williams is going for her 24th Grand Slam title, winning her last at Australia in 2017.At 24, Svitolina is going for her first Grand Slam final.
Svitolina is reserved, quiet, almost studious. Her progress has been methodical.
“I think all my career I have been going step by step. I was going very slowly. Not slowly as slow, you know,” said Svitolina after beating Konta. “Still, I was quite consistent, I would say, but I had some tough matches round of 16, quarterfinals before I started to win them. I think it’s been tough and painful losses sometimes, but I think they gave me this push, this confidence and maybe helped me in some matches.”
She’s not going to give away her feelings about playing against an opponent who has beaten her three times. But she has one victory over Williams, at the 2016 Olympics.
“Well, she has a big serve,” Svitolina said with a smile. “That’s obvious to everyone. And that’s what I have to expect. I have to react quickly and try to take my chances when I have.”
At this point in her burgeoning career, she may have no better chance.