ROME, Italy - World No.4 Elina Svitolina added her name to the long list of favorites for Roland Garros, after a strong week at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where she successfully defended her Premier 5 title by defeating No.1 Simona Halep in Sunday's final. The win was Svitolina's eighth consecutive victory in a tournament final - she has not lost since 2016 - and her win over Halep was her sixth consecutive victory over a reigning World No.1.
"Going into this final I was kind of thinking about what I did in the final of Dubai," Svitolina said on the WTA Insider Podcast. "I think this is all experience. It's still different from any other tournament. For me, it's definitely very special and I was very pleased with the performance that I was showing throughout the week. Definitely, I couldn't wish to play better."
Svitolina's hitting partner and co-coach Andrew Bettles says the expectations were tempered coming into Rome. "She came into the tournament not having, for her, not having done as well as she would have liked in Stuttgart and Madrid on the clay," Bettles said on the WTA Insider Podcast. "So we were going into the week hoping she'd do well but without high expectations and I thought she did really well.
"Started out with a tough first round against Martic and that kind of settled her nerves and she felt she was in the tournament then. The match against Kasatkina was a big changing point for her. She lost the first set 6-0 and I think it was quicker than her first set today. Then she turned it around and really got fired up in that match and from there it was all systems go."
Svitolina and her hitting partner Andrew Bettles joined the WTA Insider Podcast after her title run to reflect on her tough week, why she might be playing the best clay tennis of her career, and how she hopes to finally break through at Roland Garros.
Listen to the full episode below:
WTA Insider: What are the emotions right now?
Svitolina: I'm very tired now. I was struggling a little bit at the beginning of the tournament and towards the end, physically, I was a little bit struggling with injury. I really want to say thank you to the WTA Physios who really saved my body and helped me recover. They did their best and I'm thankful about it. It was a great week of tennis and I'm really happy I could win the title again.
WTA Insider: When did you start feeling your body might be breaking down in this tournament?
Svitolina: I think I started to feel it in my second and third round. Clay always takes a lot of energy out of you and I had some tough battles against good clay court players with long rallies. I was giving a lot out there. And of course, being back here as a defending champion you want to give extra. I think that's why my body went for a little bit too much.
WTA Insider: You've defended two titles this season. After Dubai, you said it's a different feeling to defend a title. What do you think you've mastered about it?
Svitolina: Going into this final I was kind of thinking about what I did in the final of Dubai. I think this is all experience. It's still different from any other tournament. For me, it's definitely very special and I was very pleased with the performance that I was showing throughout the week. Definitely, I couldn't wish to play better.
WTA Insider: Against Kerber, Kontaveit, and Halep, it seemed you found that line to balance between being defensive and stepping up and being offensive.
Svitolina: I started the tournament very strong as well, playing against Martic, who I struggled against at Roland Garros last year. I knew that was going to be a really tough match in the second round. And then Kasatkina, it was 0-6 in the first set. I was a little bit struggling in the beginning, but in the end, I was coming back and trying to find my game and in the end, it worked really good. I was fighting my way back into the match. In general, I think I was playing really solid this week and I'm very pleased that I could keep this level throughout the tournament.
WTA Insider: You're looking very fit, even fitter than as early as March. What have you been doing in the gym the last few months?
Svitolina: You're not the first person to notice this (laughs). I've had so many people telling me this and I'm almost a little bit tired of it. Everyone's trying to figure out what I'm doing different. It's a secret. I'm going to keep it a secret.
WTA Insider: Do you think you've found your best clay tennis this week?
Svitolina: Yeah, I think I played really good. I was seeing the court very good, I was moving well. It's different. Last year I was gaining confidence. First time winning such a big title in Rome. This year it was a more solid performance from me from the beginning to the end. I was showing a good attitude, good game, and I think I'm moving the right way. That's what we've been working on with my team and I think we fond the right way for now, which works. We're always trying to add something to my game, so it can help and to always improve. Tennis is always different, it always moves quickly, so you always have to improve something more because everyone is working.
WTA Insider: What has been the biggest leap forward for you with respect to your game?
Svitolina: I think a little bit everything. I think mentally I'm much stronger. I've been working on it a lot. Then my game in general. I'm very clear about what I have to do on the court. Of course, there are not always perfect days, but I always try to fight my way back into the match and always find a way. I think with my team, we are clear about what we have to do, what we have to work on. The season is quite long so it's important to stay healthy. This has been my priority all season long. If I'm not fit, my game is quite physical, so I have to always stay at the top of my physical conditions. That's very very tough and that's what we're trying to improve.
WTA Insider: Your team, with Thierry Ascione and Andrew Bettles, what's the most important thing they've given you?
Svitolina: Even though Thierry is not here, he watched all my matches. We spoke so many times on the phone this week. It's been a big challenge for me to come back here as a defending champion. He got a lot of calls from me this week (laughs). And Andrew, it's always nice to see him by my side. He's doing great and I'm enjoying the vibe we have when we're all together, so I'm looking forward to Roland Garros when we'll all be together again.
I changed my fitness coach recently so I'm working a different program. We'll see how it works and then we'll decide what we do with my fitness program.
WTA Insider: You're in a similar position as last year, coming off a big title in Rome into Roland Garros. What did you learn from that experience that you take with you this year?
Svitolina: Definitely I learned a lot from that week. I was very close to making my first semifinal ever but it didn't happen. This year, it's a new challenge. It's going to be very different. I'm going to just try and take it one match at a time. It's very important because there's a lot of pressure and things going on. So for me, the priority is to be physically ready, and then I will go on the court, enjoy and do my best.