Svitolina advances to Birmingham quarterfinals for 1st time

France's Kristina Mladenovic returns the ball to Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova on day three at Edgbaston Priory, Birmingham, England, Wednesday June 20, 2018. (Mike Egerton/PA via AP)
265805 Pinchos- PGB promo Banner (25 x 5 cm)-5 copy

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Fifth-ranked Elina Svitolina believes she is making progress on grass after reaching the quarterfinals at Birmingham for the first time with a 6-4, 6-2 win on Wednesday over Alize Cornet of France in the Wimbledon warmup tournament. Svitolina was within a couple of wins of becoming world No. 1 earlier this year without ever enjoying much success on grass.

“I was expecting a good match with her (Cornet) because she plays well against the top players,” said the 23-year-old Svitolina. “She certainly produced some great rallies. But I was very happy with my performance and happy to be in the quarterfinals for the first time here.” A drive-volley and smash combination helped the Ukrainian break serve for the first time in the fifth game, and she never looked like relinquishing this advantage throughout the rest of the set.

Second-seeded Svitolina made a similar net approach, concluding it with a tidy drop shot volley in the third game of the second set, when she broke again. A third break two games later — assisted by Cornet’s decision to stop a rally and seek an out call to a ball which landed on the baseline — effectively ended the match as a contest. Cornet nevertheless contributed plenty to some fierce baseline exchanges. With a long-term base in London, Svitolina said she is “a little bit English,” including a recent decision to acquire a home “so close, next door” to Wimbledon. There is no doubt where her immediate ambition lies.

She next plays Mihaela Buzarnescu, a 30-year-old Romanian, who is at a career-high No. 30, having been ranked 267th a year ago. Buzarnescu beat Petra Martic of Croatia 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday. Magdalena Rybarikova, who rose almost 90 places last year to reach a career-high No. 17 in March, once again showed her liking for this surface with a fine recovery against Kristina Mladenovic. The Slovak accelerated toward victory against the former top 10 player from France with an array of slice ground strokes, clever approaches and sharp volleys.

Rybarikova last year reached the Wimbledon semifinals. She is a former champion here, winning the title in 2009. In the first round she beat third-seeded Karolina Pliskova for the loss of only five games but found it tougher against Mladenovic. “I think I’d been a bit passive. The key was when I played more cross-court slices and drops and made an early break in the second set,” Rybarikova said. “That’s the way I am trying to play on grass. I am thankful that I have the game to do that.” The third set of a match which lasted nearly two hours took only 22 minutes.

Rybarikova next faces Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic, who on Tuesday overcame a difference in rankings of almost 100 places and saved four match points while beating seventh-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium. Jakupovic followed up Wednesday by getting past 18th-ranked Naomi Osaka of Japan, who recently beat four former top-ranked opponents. Osaka was forced to retired injured after losing the first set 6-3.