Svitolina: ‘A Really Amazing Moment’

Elina Svitolina (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 20, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s been a little more than two weeks since Elina Svitolina said “Yes” to the beginning of her forever with Gaël Monfils, the acrobatic and entertaining French tennis star. The highly-recognizable couple has publicly chronicled their relationship through their popular Instagram page that boasts 127,000 followers. “We’re not perfect. We make mistakes. And we’ll make more mistakes. And that’s OK,” they write in the introduction to their page.

Make no mistake, Svitolina beamed a big smile and proudly showed off her engagement ring during her WTA all-access virtual press conference Tuesday afternoon in Stuttgart, where she is the fourth seed in this week’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. She will face either Germany’s Angelique Kerber, ranked 26th, or 215th-ranked lucky loser Ekaterine Gorgodze of Georgia in Thursday’s second round. It will be Svitolina’s first WTA tour match on clay this season following a 13-6 win-loss record on hard courts to start the 2021 season.

Tennis TourTalk asked Svitolina if she was surprised by the timing of Monfils’ popping the question of marriage and where her happy and colorful engagement photos were taken.

“Yes, I was quite surprised,” Svitolina, 26, admitted, “but I knew he was a bit nervous and that something was going on.” She laughed as she shared reminisced about becoming engaged.

“So, it was surprising. For sure, it was a really amazing moment for both of us. And the photos were taken in Switzerland. He took me for the surprise trip. So, it was very nice and beautiful landscape.”

Svitolina’s engagement to Monfils was just the beginning of a busy two-week downtime for the World No. 5 from Ukraine. After bowing to World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in the semifinals of the Miami Open at the end of last month, she returned home and readied herself for the European clay season, one of her favorite portions of the WTA calendar.

Last weekend, Svitolina represented Ukraine and helped lead her country to a 4-0 sweep of Japan in a tie held on clay in Chornomorsk, Ukraine. Svitolina played No. 1 singles and won twice, first beating Chihiro Muramatsu, ranked No. 233, 6-3, 6-2. Then, on the second day, she defeated No. 172 Yuki Naito, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (3). Ukraine was also represented in singles by Marta Kostyuk and in doubles by sisters Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok. The victory for Ukraine advanced them to next year’s Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers with a shot at making the Finals.

“I am convinced we have a great team,” Svitolina said, quoted by the Billie Jean King Cup website. “Everyone has a high ranking and high performance and the team is very balanced. I think we have a good chance to play and compete against the best teams.

“We are very close and that motivates each of us to go for more and we have a really warm spirit which is really amazing and pushes us to get better results.

“It has been really nice to get together again this week and we have had a lot of fun. I’m lucky that I got to play on this court again and also that we have had Ukrainian food throughout the week, which I have really enjoyed as I miss it so much on Tour.

“I love borsch and that is what I have been eating every day and maybe that is the secret to success.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Svitolina to describe the experience of representing her country and playing at the Elite Tennis Club, near where she grew up in Odessa. She said: “Yes, it was a great week. I really enjoyed playing at home, playing in the club where I used to practice, where I spent most of hours on the court and from early age I was training there.

“It was very special for me to get a chance to play Centre Court and to win two matches there. And the team spirit was great and we really enjoyed the company of each other. It was a great week. Also, I practiced on clay courts, which helped the preparation going towards the clay court season. I was very happy that it happened all there in Ukraine.”

Kontaveit praises young German Middendorf

World No. 27 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, a Stuttgart finalist in 2019, set up a second-round meeting with World No. 4 and third seed Sofia Kenin of the United States after defeating 18-year-old unranked German qualifier Julia Middendorf, 6-2, 6-3, in 71 minutes.

During her virtual press conference after the victory, Kontaveit praised the young German, who was appearing in her first WTA main draw. She said: “I had no idea what to expect. I think she had patches in games where she played really well. I think she also started playing better in the second set, serving better and making more balls and hitting winners.”

Middendorf finished with 17 winners, including three aces, and committed 24 unforced errors. However, the was unable to convert any of the eight break points she gained against the Estonian. Kontaveit outpointed Middendorf 67-52.

“So, I think, she is a very young player and she’s going to gain some experience and I think she can play well. It wasn’t easy at all. I mean, it was 6-2, 6-3. It might seem like an easy score, but there was so many even games and she had so many break points on my serve as well. So, it wasn’t easy at all.”

Tuesday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix results

Wednesday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix order of play

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

• World No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus earned an impressive win in her Stuttgart debut Tuesday evening. She defeated No. 40 Zhang Shuai of China, 6-2, 6-2, in one hour and seven minutes for her 15th win of the season in 20 matches.

The fifth seed Sabalenka served three aces and hit 23 winners against Zhang, who dropped to 0-4 this year and has lost six straight matches going back to last year’s French Open. Sabalenka’s serve was not broken and she did not face any break points after the opening game of the match. Meanwhile, the Belarusian broke Zhang four times in eight tries and outpointed her 64-42. Next, Sabalenka will face unseeded Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany in the second round on Thursday.

“It’s my first match on the clay court [this year], and I tried to fight for every point,” Sabalenka said during her post-match interview on court. “First match can sometimes be tricky. I was just trying to stay focused from the beginning to the end and do my best.”

• World No. 10 Petra Kvitova, seeded seventh, broke her opponent, World No. 14 Jennifer Brady, twice. Each was a difference maker in her 6-4, 6-3 first-round victory, completed in an hour and 32 minutes. In a match of pure power tennis, the Czech star who lifted the trophy in Stuttgart two years ago, hit four aces and 27 winners against the American Brady, who committed 20 unforced errors and was unable to break Kvitova’s serve in three attempts. Kvitova outpointed Brady 72-60.

The victory advanced Kvitova into Wednesday’s second round against first-day winner Maria Sakkari of Greece, ranked 19th.

“By the end of the first set, I think I started playing better than I did at the beginning,” Kvitova said during an on-court interview. “I felt much more comfortable. It’s great to be back on this court.”

Laura Siegemund, who won the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, hit 20 winners and broke fellow German Mona Barthel’s serve four times in five opportunities en route to a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory in two hours and 11 minutes to reach Wednesday’s second round against top seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia. The 186th-ranked qualifier Barthel committed 33 unforced errors and converted just two of 10 break-point opportunities. The No. 58 Siegemund outpointed Barthel 93-82 in just the second career head-to-head and first meeting in 10 years.

“It was not an easy match,” Siegemund said during her on-court interview afterward. “[Mona] came out of the qualies and had matches already. She’s a tough player, not a lot of rhythm, super-good serve and fast hitting. It’s not the kind of match you find your rhythm in the first round. I’m just glad I hung in there. It maybe wasn’t my best tennis, but I’m glad that I got through and I know there’s room for improvement.”

• Russian No. 2 Ekaterina Alexandrova, ranked 34th, upset No. 22 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, in two hours and 17 minutes, in her Stuttgart debut. Alexandrova hit nine aces and 46 winners overall to 35 unforced errors and broke Muchova’s serve four times in nine opportunities. The Czech No. 4 served three aces, hit 21 winners and committed 16 unforced errors in her first match since reaching the Australian Open semifinals. Since then, Muchova has been sidelined with an abdominal injury. She converted just two of nine break-point chances. Alexandrova outpointed Muchova 102-91 to advance to the second round against No. 8 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.

“It was a tough match,” Alexandrova said during an on-court interview after her win. “I thought I started well, but then I lost my vision of the game. … [Fortunately], my served helped me out a lot today. Every win on clay is special.”

• In a matchup of qualifiers, 125th-ranked Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany defeated No. 271 Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway, 6-2, 6-0, to advance to the second round against World No. 7 and fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

• The German duo of Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic defeated No. 4 seeds Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine and Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 10-5, to advance to the quarterfinal round against first-day winners Vivian Heisen of Germany and Wang Yafan of China.

Also, unseeded Sharon Fichman of Canada and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico defeated Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Sofia Kenin of the United States, 4-6, 6-4, 10-4, to advance to the quarterfinals.

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Elina Svitolina on the importance of knowing the WTA has confirmed its tournament schedule post-Wimbledon through the US Open: “For sure, after Roland Garros moved a little bit the event, I was a little bit – like I think everyone – shaken because no one knew what was going on. So, now it is pretty clear and I’m pretty much going to play here, then Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. I will see where I am with my form and if I need to play any additional matches, I will see that.

“Yeah, it’s a full schedule and I’m happy that there are events going on that give us opportunity to step on the court. I love to play in Europe so that’s good news.”

Jennifer Brady on her first clay-court match of the season: “If I were to look back on my performance at Roland Garros [last year] and compare it to my match here, I feel like I have made drastic improvements in the game I play and I’m really looking forward to the next couple of tournaments I’m going to play.”