Elina Svitolina came from behind to beat Storm Hunter at the French Open – just a day after watching husband Gaël Monfils win a mammoth match against Sebastián Báez.
Svitolina lost the first set against her Australian counterpart 6-2, but stormed back emphatically to win the last two sets 3-6 1-6 to complete the second round win.
Monfils also dropped the opening set as he faced Báez. The Frenchman fought back and eventually won the match in five sets with a 3-6 6-3 7-5 1-6 7-5 victory in a match that lasted three hours and 47 minutes in front of a roaring home crowd.
Monfils’ play from distance meant that Svitolina’s preparations were a little more unusual than usual, but this did not affect her performance.
“I watched the whole game. I was up until midnight when the game ended and went straight to bed,” explains the Ukrainian. “Actually, sleeping was good. I slept well for seven hours, which is quite good for grand slam.
“It actually gave me the motivation to go again today. He was there for me today. Made such a big effort to come and support me, especially on a tough day like today. So it really motivated me to fight and not give up and play every point, try to give 100% effort,” Svitolina continued.
The couple got married on July 16, 2021 and welcomed their daughter Skaï Monfils in October 2022. Skaï will be attending the French Open and Monfils dedicated his victory to her. It is also the first tournament that both mom and dad play after Monfils’ previous injury problems.
“The first tournament for us where we both play in the same tournament, and Skaï is also here with us in Paris. It is really very special,’ said Svitolina after her victory.
“So far everything is going well and we are really enjoying our time together off the pitch, and also on the pitch we try to be focused and play as well as possible.
“Of course it is very important to have a team for Skaï, who takes care of her, so that we can concentrate on tennis. And especially in such a big event with a lot of pressure and a lot of things happening, it’s important that your mind is calm about your child and then you have 100% head[ing] in tennis.”
In addition to raising a child and participating in a tennis grand slam, Svitolina also struggles daily with an inescapable “heaviness” due to the war in Ukraine.
“I feel anger. I feel sadness. I feel pain in my heart to see all that. I have a few Telegram channels where I follow the news from my hometown in Odessa, from all over Ukraine, and they post the news what’s happening, when the alarm goes off, or where missiles landed, you know, how many missiles hit by our Ukrainian army, the air force,” said the 28-year-old.
“Moments like this I feel a mix of different feelings, but they are bad feelings. You know, they’re anger, they’re sadness, just heaviness. It’s like this heaviness that I have every day, and all Ukrainians have. You can’t escape this, and this is the past year and a half that we’ve had that in our lives.
The world number 192 also shared how she uses the war as an inspiration to fuel her tennis achievements.
“For me, when I step on the field, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine. And me, I’m fighting here on my own front line, you know,’ Svitolina sketched.
“I can’t be sad. I can’t be distracted in some ways. I’m just gonna lose, you know. So that’s why I remember when the war started, I was in Monterrey in Mexico, and I was very, very sad. I almost cried when I entered the court. I really had heaviness in me.
“Then I thought, you know, now every time I step on the pitch I’m going to give it 100% and give it my all because I’m here to do something for my country. I have a flag next to my name, so I fight for my country, and I will do that every time I step on the pitch.”
Svitolina will wait to see who she faces in the third round at Roland-Garros, while Monfils prepares to take on Holger Rune in the second round.