Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.
Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 on Wednesday to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. France’s top player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, or 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova is next.
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Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married French player Gael Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal. (Monfils won his French Open first-round five-setter after midnight, then was on hand for Svitolina’s 11 a.m. start Wednesday.)
Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.
Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.
“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”
Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.
“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”
Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.
“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.
“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.
“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”
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