NEW YORK, NY, USA - No.7 seed Elina Svitolina had hardly finished her second round press conference at the US Open when doubles partner Olga Savchuk's phone lit up with messages from friends.
A former teen phenom in singles, now a doubles veteran, Savchuk had quietly intended to play the last tournament of her 14-year career in Flushing Meadows, asking friend and Fed Cup teammate Svitolina to assist in her curtain call.
"I wanted to make it official in press after our match, but she said it first and I woke up to all these calls!" the affable Ukrainian said on Thursday.
For her part, Svitolina has reduced her doubles schedule as singles became her priority, but the 23-year-old wouldn't turn down the chance to play one last match with a fellow Olympian.
"I didn't know it was a secret," she clarified on Friday. "It's been a long journey for her. I remember when we were playing ITFs together. At the time, she was playing great in singles and doubles, but she was always very nice to me. All the experience that she shared with me was really helpful. There are not so many players who are like that. That's why our friendship is really strong."
Savchuk, who splits her time between Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the Bahamas - where she'll head after the Open for a two-month vacation - has vivid memories of her countrywoman at a time when the former World No.79 was trying to rebuild her singles ranking, having already made the third round of the 2006 Australian Open as an 18-year-old qualifier.
"She was a very serious girl, always with the big headphones!" Savchuk recalled with a laugh. "That’s my first memory. Very serious, never talking or smiling. My personality is very social, and we are from the same country, so we got to talk to each other, practice a few times. I know her brother because he’s my age, I knew her parents, so we started to talk.
"We ended up to be best friends, through all of my career and her career until now."
Coming off a consistent year in doubles - reaching four finals, winning the Hobart International with Raluca Olaru, and earning a career-high ranking of No.33 - Savchuk decided it would be her final year on tour during the off-season.
"It just felt like I did everything that I wanted. You always can do better, you always can win more and more, but I played many Fed Cups for my country; I played the Olympics, which was my biggest dream. I achieved what I wanted in singles a long time ago, I did good in doubles, and I made so many friends, I just feel that’s it.
"I was always asking players who retired how it felt, because some days you wake up and you hate tennis, some days you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s okay, it’s fine, I love it.’ They told me ‘You will feel it,' and that’s how I felt. I was like ‘Okay, that’s it.’
"I’m ready a new life, new changes, new challenges. I feel so happy about my decision."
Her last match, a first round loss in Flushing to Viktoria Kuzmova and Magdalena Rybarikova, came three weeks shy of her 31st birthday, an especially young age for doubles specialists known to play into their early forties.
"I started my career when players were already finishing at 25. So my original idea was I would finish at 27. I started early, so I played a lot of years on the tour. Still, my friends keep asking me, ‘Why? You are so young!’ I’m like, ‘Young for what?’
"I think for everybody, it’s different. Somebody feels it at 26, somebody else at 40, and it’s completely fine. For me, it’s now."
Savchuk smiles as one completely at peace, though she admits her cool demeanor wasn't always easy to find. She began her career alongside contemporaries like Lucie Safarova and Maria Kirilenko, dealing with injuries and doubt for a better part of the decade.
"I was in the Top 100, but they were already Top 20. I remember playing main draws in Indian Wells and Miami, thinking, ‘I’m really behind the train, I’m so bad, I’m No.90 or whatever in the rankings.’
"Now, you see all these new players who are 26, and you think, ‘Oh that’s a young player.’ If I would have only appreciated what I did at that time. I really look back now and see how much I did, and realize how only one percent of all the people who want to be here actually make it.
"You take it for granted because you’re here every day, and you’re just thinking it’s normal. But it’s amazing, all these players who are here, and you’re one of them. I played 12 years straight, every Grand Slam, so it’s just amazing, and I appreciate myself more when I look back.
"If I could play singles now, maybe I would be more relaxed, but at that time I had so much stress and pain every day in both Achilles. Nobody really knows about, but for nine years, every day, constant pain, and that was a big part of the decision to stop singles."
Happiest in a team format, Savchuk won three WTA doubles and one WTA 125K title, and thrived as the elder stateswoman of the Ukrainian Fed Cup team, leading them back into World Group II back in 2016. That same year, she made her long-awaited Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro.
"I was born in the USSR, and my family was in track and field, my grandpa was coaching the national track and field team. Growing up, it was the Olympics that was bigger than a Grand Slam. Two times, I had the opportunity but I didn’t really make it; when I made it in Rio, and I was the happiest person on Earth.
"I know for other players it was just another week, but for me, it’s all my best memories. All my pictures which hang on the wall in my house will be from Fed Cup or the Olympics."
"Olga is someone who is really special on our team," an emotional Lesia Tsurenko confessed after her headline-grabbing win over Caroline Wozniacki on Thursday. "I think she's one of my first friends on tour. When I just arrived here, I didn't know many people. She was one of the first became my friend.
"She is probably the most funny person on tour. She's always in a good mood. She's always ready to speak. We have a lot of fun together playing Fed Cup. She's very special in my heart, in my tennis career, and I think she's very special person for Ukrainian tennis.
"Maybe in the future, she can in some way stay with the team. I think she will. We'll see what she's going to do in the future."
Savchuk sees her next chapter playing out in a myriad of ways. Often a fixture of various players' on-court coaching timeouts, she could stay in tennis in an on-court role, as part of the media - getting advice from player turned commentator Jill Craybas - or even as an author.
"My idea was to write a book about the craziest stories of players’ lives: whether it’s a trip from Morocco to the States in three days, or somebody who missed their flight. The idea was to interview different players and put their names on them.
"We all have so many crazy stories about life on tour, like when my bag was stolen at the Milan train station, or when Bojana Jovanovski Petrovic flew into the wrong Carlsbad a few years ago. I think I would read that kind of book; I just need a connection in publishing!"
Even without Simon & Schuster on speed dial, Savchuk has nonetheless had a wonderful life with the WTA, one made all the richer for the friends she made on tour.
"I think I can live in any country in the world, and I could go and visit somebody. I think that’s my biggest achievement."