ROLAND GARROS — Elina Svitolina’s comeback is an inherently heart-warming one.
Married to French superstar Gael Monfils, who won brilliantly on Tuesday night and then pulled out with a wrist injury 24 hours later, she gave to a daughter Skai in October and then won a title the week before the French Open.
She is also donating all her winnings from Strasbourg to charitable causes in the country of her birth, Ukraine. It is a reminder that not only is Svitolina playing professional tennis as a new mother, she is also doing so while her homeland is being rained down on by missiles.
“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” Svitolina says.
“They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. It’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.
“Last months being really tough as well across Ukraine. There was missiles all over Ukraine. Yeah, it’s been actually really, really tough for the past months for Ukrainians.”
It may be even harder for her to focus on tennis when she plays in the third round of a grand slam for the first time in over a year on Friday. Around 12.15pm, Svitolina will face Anna Blinkova, of the country whose name does not feature anywhere in the grounds of Roland Garros: Russia.
In fact, for all that Russia is a taboo term at the French Open, you can hardly move for Russian players on Friday. Just three of the eight women’s matches scheduled will not feature at least one Russian player, and one of those three stars Yulia Putintseva, who was born in Moscow but now plays for Kazakhstan. Two matches feature neutral players on both sides of the net. There are two more Russians playing the men’s draw too. Every singles court at Roland Garros will host a Russian at some point on Friday.
“For me when I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” Svitolina adds.
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“And me, I’m fighting here on my own frontline.
“I cannot be sad. I cannot be distracted in some ways. I’m just going to lose. When the war started, I was in Mexico in Monterrey, and I was very, very sad. I almost cried when I entered the court. I had really heaviness in me.
“Then I thought, ‘Now each time I step on the court I’m going to go 100 per cent out and give everything because I’m here to do something for my country.’
“I have a flag next to my name, so I’m fighting for my country, and I’m going to do that each time I step on the court.”
Ones to watch
(All times BST)
You could pretty much always put Carlos Alcaraz in the “one to watch” slot because his playing style is so varied and entertaining, but this one should be a lot of fun on both sides of the net.
Scheduled for 7.15pm on Philippe Chatrier, he takes on Denis Shapovalov, he of the jumping one-handed backhand, telling an Italian crowd to shut up in four-lettered terms and also once getting disqualified from a Davis Cup tie against Great Britain for accidentally whacking a ball at an umpire.
He is a more mature player than that these days, and still one that many think will go far.
The only risk is that this match will probably be beyond his reach for now, and given his up-and-down form in 2023, could end up being quite one-sided.
The same risk applies, and many of the same caveats, to Novak Djokovic‘s 3pm clash with Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, another born entertainer and one of the only players in the world who regularly dives on clay. He has beaten Djokovic before, and on clay, although it came during a period when the 22-time grand slam champion was clearly still battling the demons created by Melbourne-gate 2022.
Always tough at this stage to find an upset but since you asked, I’m going for Diego Schwartzman against Stefanos Tsitsipas at around 3pm on Suzanne Lenglen.
Schwartzman had no form at all coming into the French Open but, from two sets down in the opening round, has now won six in a row. Tsitsipas, while a previous finalist here and in the last major, has admitted himself that he is not playing well yet at Roland Garros and a top-quality Schwartzman, who will make him hit a lot of balls, might be the one to draw yet more errors out of him.
Karolina Muchova has a very good chance of beating Irina-Camelia Begu too (around 3.30pm on Simonne Mathieu) but only 16 places separate them in the world rankings so it hardly counts.
Cameron Norrie will have not just his mother but his sister too in the box for his clash with Lorenzo Musetti – and if he gets through, he could set up a fourth-round match against Carlos Alcaraz.
It would be the third time they have met on clay this year – they split the titles in consecutive weeks in South America – but by far the biggest occasion. That still might not tempt Norrie’s father David over to France on the Eurostar though. In his son’s words, “he’s got to look after the dogs”.
Whatever the case, Norrie Sr and the two black labradors will be tuning in around 2.30pm to see their son/favourite tennis ball provider go up against the young Italian, whose favourite surface is probably clay.
(All courts start at 10am BST unless stated; singles only)
Court Philippe Chatrier (from 10.45am)
- Elise Mertens (28) vs Jessica Pegula (3)
- Kamilla Rakhimova vs Aryna Sabalenka (2)
- Novak Djokovic (3) vs Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (29)
- (Not before 7.15pm) Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs Denis Shapovalov (26)
Court Suzanne Lenglen
- Peyton Stearns vs Daria Kasatkina (9)
- Lorenzo Sonego vs Andrey Rublev (7)
- Sloane Stephens vs Yulia Putintseva
- Diego Schwartzman vs Stefanos Tsitsipas (5)
Court Simonne Mathieu
- Karen Khachanov (11) vs Thanasi Kokkinakis
- Anna Blinkova vs Elina Svitolina
- Lorenzo Musetti (17) vs Cameron Norrie (14)
- Karolina Muchova vs Irina-Camelia Begu (27)
- (Following one men’s doubles match) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Anastasia Potapova (24)
- Fabio Fognini vs Sebastian Ofner
- Juan Pablo Varillas vs Hubert Hurkacz (13)
- (Following two women’s doubles matches) Clara Tauson vs Elina Avanesyan