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Svitolina in a new place, and feeling less pressure

  • Matt Trollope

Elina Svitolina has re-emerged on tour a changed woman, and this shift is reflected in her tennis.

The Ukrainian only resumed competing less than two months ago, and did so as an unranked wildcard. But on Monday at Roland Garros, she thumped last year’s semifinalist Martina Trevisan 6-2 6-2 in just 70 minutes to power into the second round. 

Next up is a match with Australian qualifier Storm Hunter – and a chance to go even deeper in Paris.

“Super excited about the win and the comeback, of course,” said the former world No.3, who has previously reached three Roland Garros quarterfinals.

“Couldn't be better prepared for the Grand Slam after winning in Strasbourg. Played great tennis.

“Today's match was great from my side. Played really solid, and got a good, confident win.”

Confident was the key word. An aggressive, focused Svitolina set about dismantling world No.24 Trevisan on Court Simonne Mathieu for her biggest win, by ranking, since the 2021 US Open.

She struck 20 winners to 12 and kept her unforced errors to 16 during a performance that will send Trevisan tumbling outside the top 60.

Elina Svitolina in action during her first-round win over 26th seed Martina Trevisan at Roland Garros. (Getty Images)

Svitolina’s aforementioned triumph in Strasbourg was her first title in almost two years, and improved her record in finals to an excellent 17-3.

Now back inside the world’s top 200, she prepares for her meeting with Hunter riding a five-match winning streak.

It is extremely rapid and encouraging progress, given how her comeback began. 

Svitolina, now 28, returned to action in Charleston after more than a year away; in between she and husband Gael Monfils welcomed baby daughter Skaï in October

She lost that Charleston match in three sets to Yulia Putintseva, and would eventually lose four of the first five matches of her return.

But she turned a corner at the WTA 125K event in Saint Malo, reaching the semifinals before going down to eventual champion Sloane Stephens. Two tournaments later, she ripped through the Strasbourg field for the loss of just one set. 

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They key to her resurgence? A shift in perspective. 

“Everything is pretty different,” she noted. 

“I have different team right now. I'm a mum right now … and it feels different as well. I'm not a top-10 or top-20 player now. I'm outside of 100.

“Also, less pressure, I would say, because right now I'm just gaining, gaining points, and coming back to the level, coming back to the tour. So everything is kind of old and new for me right now (smiling).

“(It’s a) mixture of different feelings, but right now, just want to enjoy each opportunity at each tournament that I get.”

The reference to less pressure is key, because it has helped Svitolina arrive at where she is today.

She always intended to return to tennis – “I have some goals that I want to complete before I retired completely,” she revealed – but she did not put pressure on herself, waiting instead to see how she would feel post-pregnancy.

Nothing was rushed. She and new coach Raemon Sluiter had months to work together and properly gel, while she gradually rebuilt her strength and fitness.

“I feel like I'm as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger,” Svitolina said after beating Trevisan.

And despite having scaled the heights of Grand Slam semifinals, plus winning the 2018 WTA Finals and another four WTA 1000 titles, she did not baulk at stepping down to the ITF circuit in search of match play.

Overall, she was kind and gentle with herself. And she needed to be, given the trauma she and fellow Ukrainian players have experienced following the invasion of their country.

Two months before announcing her pregnancy in May 2022, Svitolina revealed she was stepping away from the game for a period. She was physically and mentally drained, a state exacerbated by the stress and anguish of the war.  

Ever since, she has been proactively raising awareness and funds for war relief efforts in Ukraine – including the donation of her entire champion’s cheque from Strasbourg. 

“These parts, I tried to find the balance, and I feel like I'm seeing a little bit again differently as well after the break,” she said.

“We can see the result, that I'm playing well, and the most importantly I'm happy with the level that I show right now. That's what I want to build on this.

“I think war changed me in so many ways. I think I treasure more my family, my time with my family, my time just on a daily basis.

“I really try to understand that how lucky I am to be where I am and to have a voice, as well. Also to have opportunity to play such big events, to motivate young kids of Ukraine.

“In so many ways, I'm just grateful that my life turned like that, so that's why right now I just want to give this little part to the people who need it the most right now.”