A player who enters the 2021 French Open with high hopes is Elina Svitolina. The 26-year-old Odesa, Ukraine native has been a mainstay inside the top 10 of the WTA Tour Rankings for several years now, but still finds herself on the hunt for that maiden Grand Slam title.
“Well, you know if I could look into the future and tell you I would do that, but unfortunately, I don’t know. And it’s a very tough question,” she said earlier this year when asked about winning that first major. “I will do my best to compete at a high level and try to get the opportunity to go further than the semifinals. And that’s always been my goal, and it’s gonna be a goal for the next [few] years.”
Svitolina has advanced to two Slam semifinals, both coming in 2019 at Wimbledon and then the U.S. Open. She has also reached the quarterfinals at the French Open three times, including last year, and the Australian Open twice, so she is no stranger to advancing well into the second week of majors.
She has been one of the most consistent players on tour over the last several years, winning 15 singles titles, including winning the end-of-the-year-finals in 2018, and has not been ranked outside the top 10 since May 2017. Still, for all that success, Svitolina knows professional tennis players are measured by Grand Slam success, and understands there isn’t one cookie-cutter approach to achieving that.
Svitolina’s ascent to the top of the women’s game began back in 2014 when she reached the third-round of the Australian Open at just 20-years-old. Over the next couple of years, she would accumulate titles, and would reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in 2015 at the French Open. Her baseline game and defense have turned her into one of the most consistent players on tour, and they stem from the unrelenting work ethic she adopted as a kid.
Born to athletic parents, her father, a wrestle,r and mother, a rower, Svitolina began playing tennis at the age of five in response to the attention her brother was getting for playing tennis. As Svitolina progressed, her and her family moved from Odesa to Kharkiv, a city more than 400 miles away near the Russian border, after a local businessman agreed to sponsor her.
As a junior, Svitolina would reach the finals of the French Open Juniors in 2010 and the Wimbledon Juniors in 2012, winning the former, her biggest junior achievement.
Svitolina reflected on her childhood in a post on Behind the Racquet, the platform created by Long Island’s Noah Rubin which allows tennis players to share their personal stories and give the public the opportunity to witness a side of players they don’t normally see.
“I think the toughest thing was that my parents were involved in my tennis. No matter where I played, they always followed. My parents wanted me to win every match. At a certain point, it’s important for every parent to step away and my parents realized this five years ago. When my parents stopped traveling with me, I didn’t count on them anymore. If I lost a match, I only blamed myself, and through this process I found my own way,” she writes.
Svitolina continued her honesty:
“I still think about my childhood sometimes. Perhaps it could have been better if my parents hadn’t pushed me so hard. Yet these tough moments made me the person I am today. I have been on the road from a young age. It was challenging but when I thought about what I wanted to achieve, it motivated me. I would reset goals every few years so it did not feel like a constant cycle of traveling and losing, because I lost almost every week. Playing in front of crowds and winning tournaments gave me energy and motivation. Tennis gave me everything I have today. Tennis taught me discipline, introduced me to great people and showed me unbelievable places. Tennis gave me life.”
Photo Credit: NY Tennis Magazine/Brian Coleman
Within the piece, she also describes the slow grind that is required to reach the top of the game, beginning at the lower-level events and gradually working your way the big tournaments. That fire and desire that got Svitolina onto the pro tour is the same one she hopes will propel her to that major title, the only accolade missing from her career.
That competitive nature we see from Svitolina on the court differs from the positive, enlightening message you get from her social media channels. Svitolina is one of the most active tennis players on social media, and from Instagram to Tik Tok, she keeps her fans entertained. Her personal Instagram page has more than 733,000 followers, and the page she shares with her fiancé, fellow professional tennis player Gael Monfils, @G.E.M.S.Life, has more than 127,000 followers.
Monfils and Svitolina are a tennis power couple and were engaged back in early April, a moment they shared on their page. The two keep their fans appraised on their relationship, which dates back to early 2018, including courtside kisses, life on the road, pranks they pull on each other and more.
“Yes, I was quite surprised. But I knew he was a bit nervous and that something was going on,” Svitolina said of the engagement. “So it was surprising, for sure. It was a really amazing moment for both of us.”
In addition to being a lovely couple, Svitolina says the relationship has also had a positive effect on her tennis.
“I talk more now with my coach. I’m more open with my coach and also with Gael about tennis and my feelings,” she said. “I just always love the way he pushes me to be better, and I also try to motivate him to be a better person, a better tennis player. I think this is the way that it has to be, and you have to really support each other and push for better results.”
With a stable life off the court, the 26-year-old Svitolina is locked in on continuing her pursuit for that first major, which could come at this year’s French Open. She is a three-time quarterfinalist on the Parisian clay, and is confident that her time will come soon.
“In recent years, we see that tennis players have different paths to victory. Some won right away as soon as they announced themselves on the tour,” she said. “Others patiently gained experience to finally win the major. For example, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki...It gives me hope and energy to work hard so that one day I can take this chance. The key point for me is to keep my best level for two weeks. This requires a lot of effort, both psychological and physical. Everything should work at the same time, and you need to add a little luck.”
Photo Credit: USTA/Pete Staples
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com