International Blog – Michael Dickens
Elina Svitolina has a quiet, serious and reserved personality. She does her talking on the tennis court, where she recently reached the semifinal round of the US Open and improved her world ranking to No. 3 in the WTA Rankings. Her boyfriend, Gaël Monfils, is jovial and exuberant, arguably the most charismatic player in pro tennis. His run to the US Open quarterfinals lifted him into the Top 20, where he’s currently ranked No. 12.
Svitolina, 25, was born in Odessa and grew up in Kharkiv, Ukraine, where she learned to play tennis, while the exuberant Monfils, 33 and with dreadlocked-hair, who was born in Paris and raised on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, represents the tri-colors of France. She is disciplined, he is flamboyant and likes to have fun.
Indeed, these opposites are attracted to each other. Tennis just happens to be the common denominator that has brought the striking pair of Svitolina and Monfils together and allowed them to thrive – albeit in a very public manner. Indeed, love is in the air with this international, interracial couple, as their entertaining Instagram account G.E.M.S. Life (@g.e.m.s.life), which plays off their initials, suggests.
“Social media is a big part of our job,” Monfils said during a recent sit-down interview he and Svitolina shared with ESPN’s Chris McKendry at the US Open. He said the impetus for starting their Instagram account was to be able to exert control over how they revealed their relationship to the rest of the world. Svitolina credits Monfils with coming up with the creative idea that soon morphed into a revealing look at their lives.
According to Svitolina, the super couple happened to be in Paris at the same time near the end of last year. She posted a photo on her Instagram and he texted her. “We chatted a little and since then we’re together.”
McKendry looks over at Monfils and asks, “That simple?”
Monfils smiles, nodding affirmatively at McKendry with Svitolina by his side, and replies, “That simple.”
Svitolina said she was fascinated by Monfils’ ability to perform magic card tricks. “I sold my soul to him,” she laughed, gazing toward him. His comeback line is, “I’m a happy man who loves to smile and have joy. I’m not that crazy.”
Their frequent Instagram posts on G.E.M.S. Life, whether it be sharing photos of themselves together, on and off tour – she resides in London, he lives in Geneva – or reacting to each other’s matches, has garnered 104,000 followers. Their motto is simple: “We’re not perfect. We make mistakes. And we’ll make more mistakes. And that’s OK.” 🧩🧩
In a New York Times interview, Svitolina revealed, “Of course when we go on the court we are very focused on what we have to do. But that’s only a couple of hours a day, and in the end we have an off-court life. People are very curious how that’s going, so for us it’s not a problem to share. We’re just happy that most people like it and think it’s a cool idea.”
During the ESPN interview at the US Open, Monfils suggested in response to criticism that his lighthearted approach to his craft – including his fondness for hitting trick shots – means he’s not serious about tennis, said that Svitolina has brought “more discipline” to his game.
“She is a hard worker, very professional,” said Monfils. “Sometimes even too professional, I think. Because there has to be a balance. Definitely I bring a little bit more joy to her, but she will bring me more discipline as well.”
On the court, Monfils hits some of the biggest strokes in tennis. Asked what it’s like to go out and hit with him and whether it’s helped her game, Svitolina said during one of her US Open press conferences, “Yeah, he’s hitting pretty strong and very heavy. So I think definitely it helps me to practice with him.
“But, you know, I need to find a balance, as well, between his shots, because if I only practice with him, I’m going to be only in defense most of the time, and that’s not so good, either. So I have to find balance when I’m training with him also train with my coach, you know, to do the attacking shots, as well. It helps, but, you know, I have to adjust, as well.”
Monfils seems to play some of his best tennis in New York. He was asked about it following his 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 round of 16 win over Pablo Andujar. “I play great tennis here, very great tennis. Always say that I love the atmosphere. I love the energy. The energy is very important. Every stadium I go, definitely those stadium here in New York are one of the best for my game and for my personality.
“I feel very comfortable, so I think that why I play always great tennis here.”
Asked to describe the feeling of playing in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest tennis stadium in the world, Monfils said, “You always dream to play in the slam, prime time if it is, big stadium. That’s why we play tennis for, I guess. That’s why I think it bring the best also of me.”
After her Wimbledon semifinal breakthrough, Svitolina repeated her Grand Slam success at the US Open, reaching the semifinals in New York for the first time. During her fortnight, she strung together impressive victories over Whitney Osuigwe, Venus Williams, Dayana Yastremska, Madison Keys and Johanna Konta, all in straight sets, before she lost to Serena Williams, 6-3, 6-1.
When Svitolina was asked if there was less pressure or that she was better prepared to handle the situation of reaching another Grand Slam semifinal, she said: “Well, I don’t think that I was expecting going into this tournament that I’m going to make semis. I’m just taking one match at a time, not rushing so much of the results or what should have or could have happened.
“It’s a Grand Slam. There is lots of pressure, lots of expectations from people, from media probably. But you also put lots of pressure on yourself.
“You have to just go out there, do your job and don’t think too much what’s going on around you, and who handle it the best wins.”
Following her 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal win against Konta, Svitolina was asked by ESPN’s Pam Shriver during an on-court interview how she and Monfils are inspiring each other during the US Open. She replied, “Definitely, we are pushing each other. We are trying to enjoy each other. Now, he has to step up his game.”
Although Monfils went on to lose in the quarterfinals to Matteo Berrettini in a thrilling five-setter, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5), on Arthur Ashe Stadium, he won the hearts of the New York City fans. Svitolina was his biggest fan, sitting in his player’s box throughout the duration of the three hour and 57 minute match on the eve of her semifinal. He reciprocated in kind the following evening by sitting in the front row of her player’s box.
After she lost to Serena Williams in the semifinals on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Svitolina gave props to the 37-year-old all-time greatest female tennis player and was asked if she could envision herself playing at the same age. “Well, I don’t think I can do it, first of all. What she does is unbelievable effort on a daily basis,” she said. “I know that you have to work every day. You have to be always ready, always prepared for any match because everyone most of the time now playing their best level against you. All the girls from the first round, they’re ready to give a fight, take their chances.
“What she does and what she achieved, it’s something unbelievable. For sure, everyone who dream about it. For now, only her who can do it. It’s really unbelievable.”
Asked to pinpoint to one thing she needed to improve upon to take her game to the next level following the Williams match, Svitolina said, “I think generally I have to improve my level, when I’m not playing unbelievable, because every day you cannot play unbelievable. My middle level, where I have to just improve everything from the baseline, my shots, my decisions as well, my serve. That’s what we going to try and do.
“It also comes from experience. You have to see where you are with your level. These kind of matches definitely show you big-time.”
A year ago, Svitolina won the WTA year-end title in Singapore. It’s something she has her sights set upon, again. “Well, I think it gave me the belief I can play very consistent against the top players. That’s I think the only thing what was, yeah, what was happening,” she said.
“At this level it’s very tough to pick something big, you know. It’s about the small details. You have to believe. You have to trust your game. You know, we are in the top of the women’s tennis. Everyone can hit the ball over the net. Everyone can play three, four, five, six balls over the net. So you have to find the way. You have to be consistent and find those small opportunities and take them.”
Indeed, it’s the small details and small opportunities, which both Svitolina and Monfils have put their trust and belief in – and, for now at least, they’re reaping the rewards and enjoying their lives together.