Elina Svitolina has a lot on her plate these days. In October she gave birth to daughter Skai. And while she has assembled a formidable team to help with the care of her seventh-month-old baby, there’s another thing weighing heavily on her psyche -- the ongoing Russian invasion of her country, Ukraine.
“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing,” Svitolina told reporters. “As soon as they hear [alarms], they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. They tell me that now it's a part of their life, which is very, very sad.
“Also, for kids who there’s lots of videos -- today there’s a girl where they are just running towards the bomb shelter across the street because at noon there was some missiles going past Kyiv. Yeah, it’s been actually really, really tough for the past months for Ukrainians.”
The war, which followed eight years of conflict between Europe’s two largest countries, began in February 2022 and has, according to the United States Defense Department, killed or injured more than 350,000 people.
During her one-year hiatus from the Hologic WTA Tour, Svitolina participated in a number of fundraisers for Ukraine. Last July, she was the chair umpire for an exhibition match between Iga Swiatek and Agnieszka Radwanska in Krakow, Poland, that raised more than $400,000. In October, she hosted a charity gala in Monaco that netted over $250,000. She also spent a week back in her home country and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
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How does the war affect her emotionally?
“Different days differently,” she said. “Of course, I feel anger. I feel sadness. I feel pain in my heart to see all of that. I have a few Telegram channels where I follow the news of my hometown in Odessa, of all the Ukraine, and they post the news of what is happening, when the alarm is on or where missiles landed, how many missiles were hit by our Ukrainian Army, Air Force.
“It’s like this heaviness that I have on a daily basis, and all Ukrainians have. You cannot escape from this, and this is for the past one and a half years we have that in our life.”
On Friday, Svitolina will try to put this behind her temporarily while she takes the court. Here’s a closer look at the matchup:
Elina Svitolina vs. Anna Blinkova
Believe it or not, the only match these two have played came six days ago in the Strasbourg final. Svitolina was a 6-2, 6-3 winner, collected her 17th career title and donated her entire purse of $34,000 to the children of Ukraine.
Once Svitolina committed to a comeback, she was all in. Backed by new coach Raemon Sluiter, she accepted a wild card into Charleston, where she lost her first match (in three sets) to Yulia Putintseva. Her ranking was still outside the Top 1000 when she played her first ITF events in a decade, in Chiasso, Switzerland, and Oeiras, Portugal. In between first-round losses in Madrid and Rome, she won three of four matches in Saint-Malo, France, a WTA 125.
That set the stage for Strasbourg and the momentum she carried into Paris.
Blinkova, too, is feeling good after defeating Garcia 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 -- converting her ninth match point after nearly three hours. She’s ranked No.56, only two spots below her career high and is into her second third round at a major. Her eight clay-court wins this year are already her best in a single season as are her 15 WTA main-draw victories.
Other Top 10 players in action Friday
No.2 Aryna Sabalenka: With that title in Melbourne back in January, she’s 9-0 in Grand Slams so far this year. If Swiatek loses before the quarterfinals, regardless of her results, Sabalenka will be the No.1-ranked player in the world.
She defeated Marta Kostyuk and qualifier Iryna Shymanovich in straight sets and looked solid doing so.
Next: Unseeded Kamilla Rakhimova, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Magdalena Frech.
No.3 Jessica Pegula: It should be a busy fortnight in Paris for the American; she’s seeded No.3 in singles, No.2 in doubles and No.1 in mixed doubles.
So far, no hiccups, as Pegula and Coco Gauff won their first doubles match and Pegula was a straight-sets winner over Danielle Collins and, via retirement, over Camila Giorgi. This third-round match could be tricky, though.
Next: Elise Mertens, a 6-3, 7-6 (3) winner over Camila Osorio.
Head-to-head: 2-0, Mertens.
No.9 Daria Kasatkina: She’s had a solid clay season, winning nine of 13 matches. In Paris she dispatched Jule Niemeier and Marketa Vondrousova by identical 6-3, 6-4 scores.
Next: NCAA singles champion Peyton Stearns, who upset former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in three sets.