After falling just short of a win in her first tennis match in 13 months, Elina Svitolina is already looking forward to the future.
The former World No.3 and new mom came out on the losing end of an epic 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-4 first-round match against Yulia Putintseva at the Credit One Charleston Open, but told Tennis Channel's Steve Weismann after the match that she was thrilled with all but the final result of her comeback match.
"I had goosebumps," Svitolina said. "It was a really, really sweet atmosphere out there. It was so nice to see many people, and they were really cheering me on to push through some tough moments. It was not easy physically for me today, but in the end, I'm really happy with the way I played today. Now, I can see more clear what I need to improve to be better.
"I think I'm hitting the ball well. I just have to work more on my fitness. I think a few bits here and there are going to help me to keep the focus more consistently, to be there in the moment. I think a few things here and there are going to make a difference for me."
While there was a packed house to watch her return on Charleston's Credit One Stadium, Svitolina also had an audience watching on at home. Her husband, ATP pro Gael Monfils, was watching from Europe, she said, while their infant daughter, Skaï, born in October, was sound asleep.
But before she toiled for 2 hours and 46 minutes against Putintseva, Svitolina did what she's done for much of the last year, since she last played: raise awareness and funds for her war-torn homeland of Ukraine. On Sunday in Charleston, she joined more than a dozen other Hologic WTA Tour players, including fellow Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina, in a charity pro-am through the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative.
"I'm really thankful for this opportunity, that the tournament made all this effort, the players as well who were there," she said. "I'm sure these funds will go to help people of Ukraine. We really need ... these funds for Ukrainian people these days."
Thank you everyone for all your sweet messages 🥰— Elina Monfils (@ElinaSvitolina) April 4, 2023
I really appreciate your support ❤️
Thank you @CharlestonOpen for this opportunity to make my comeback at your beautiful tournament and for your support of my foundation and the Ukrainian people. I will be back!❤️💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/Y8b3JqGlFZ
Ukraine's most prolific player, Svitolina returned to her homeland in February for the first time since the Russian invasion began last year and spoke further about what she witnessed there. The charity pro-am raised $100,000 -- funds that she says are needed just as much now as they were in the war's early days.
"It was really tough trip for me, but at the same time, I was the happiest person to see my grandmother, to see the other half of my family as well," she said. "It's really tough to see my homeland in this state ... constantly. I went to some destroyed cities, completely destroyed from the missiles, so this was a really heartbreaking moment for me, so that's why I try to do my best for Ukrainian people, for Ukraine, for the rebuilt of Ukraine, because it's really needed now these days.
"We try to make everything possible to raise money, to raise awareness that the war is still there. ... We're here, we're Ukrainian, so we try to do everything that's in our power."
The former World No.3 was awarded a main-draw wild card for Charleston's WTA 500 event, her first appearance in the Lowcountry since 2014 -- but while early returns were promising, she says she has no such designs of making a grand, singular statement in her road back to the top of the sport.
Instead, she's headed to the ITF World Tennis Tour for the first time in a decade to continue her comeback, step-by-step.
"I will sit down with my team and go through the calendar of where I can use my protected ranking, maybe some wild cards to some [Hologic WTA Tour] tournaments as well," she said. "Now, for me, it's some ITF tournaments in Europe to get some matches under my belt, and I'm just looking forward to some new challenges."