Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in action against Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina is on the brink of a bit of history, and that is the key motivation that is keeping the Ukrainian going at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Back-to-back champion here in 2017 and 2018, Svitolina took her first step for a rare hat-trick of titles when her opponent Ons Jabeur retired with an injured shoulder on Tuesday, with Svitolina leading 7-6, 4-0.

Svitolina is one of five champions who were confirmed to play here this week. But with 2011 champion Caroline Wozniacki pulling out and 2016 champion Sara Errani falling to qualifier Ivana Jorovic in their opening round on Sunday, there are only three left in the draw now — the other two being 2013 champion Petra Kvitova and 2015 champion Simona Halep.

Ons Jabeur powers a backhand shot against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine. The Tunisian player retired during the second set with an injury. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Speaking about going for the Dubai hat-trick, Svitolina said: “This is a big motivation for me here. Today I didn’t really feel like in a match mood. I don’t know why. I was struggling a bit. In the end, we could say I had a very slow start. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. But definitely it’s a big motivation for me to go after title number three. When I was 0-2 down, I told myself, C’mon, you are here to make history of the tournament.”

Svitolina could face either former world No. 1 Garbine Muguruza or Saisai Zheng in her next match. “I know both of them. I’ve played against them,” the Ukranian added. “For me, I just want to have the mentality of not thinking so much who is on the other side of the net. I’m here to win matches and try to improve my game with each match. It’s not going to be easy.

“It’s not easy to defend the title, to step on court just in these conditions. With the wind, the ball is flying a little bit. I just want to focus on myself,” Svitolina stressed.

As far as her game goes, Svitolina feels she’s improved adequately to face further challenges. “I have started to come in to the net quite a bit for the past year. I have worked a lot on my volleys. I think in Singapore also I finished a lot of points at the net. That’s what we been working on. I think it works quite well,” she said.

“And then, I always have good support here as there are lots of Ukrainians coming out to support me. It’s a city where you can relax if you want to and don’t think so much.”