Elina has got into tennis watching her older brother playing on Odesa courts. At the age of thirteen, she moved to Kharkiv, where she received a sponsorship offer. Her best junior achievements include winning Roland Garros girls’ title at the age of 15. Currently, 22-year old WTA number 13 is rapidly climbing up the rankings. Svitolina holds 5 WTA titles which is the best result in singles for Ukrainians.
Her recent WTA title comes from Taipei, Taiwan, where the Kharkivite clinched the victory on the indoor hard court. The number one Ukrainian tennis player is the only player in 2016 to defeat both No.1-ranked players beating Angelique Kerber in Brisbane, Australia and Serena Williams in Olympics in Rio.
Kharkiv Observer talked to Elina on February 8, while she prepared to play the Fed Cup tie versus Australia in Kharkiv. Even though the court speed in Taiwan was a bit different than it is at Kharkiv “Lokomotyv”, where Ukrainian national team competes against Australia in the first round of World Group II in Fed Cup, the best female tennis player of Ukraine feels confident about the coming games.
Elina Svitolina: This tournament wouldn’t add me any points for my WTA ranking. This is a team competition where I’m representing Ukraine. And therefore it is a big thing for me to play at home as I am honored to represent my country in front of my fellow citizens. I like to play for my team, and I hope this weekend will bring all of us positive emotions.
Question: Do you have any anticipations concerning these matches?
ES: Yes, I know it’s going be tough as I have high of expectations of myself. And our supporters want us to win as well. And I feel the responsibility, and I am not shy to talk about it. I will do my best in these matches.
Q: In one of the interviews you admitted that had you not been playing tennis, you would probably be studying psychology. Does this hobby influence your game and motivation?
ES: (Laughs) Oh that was so long ago. I don’t recall saying exactly that. But I like to read books on psychology, I learn a lot from them, and they definitely help me. Winning the mental game is very important in tennis.
Q: These two recent wins over No.1-ranked players, have they affected your goals, game, and motivation in any way?
ES: Yes, they gave me a confidence boost. These matches with the best tennis players proved I could keep up with them, play my game and do it in a best possible way. It became clear my hard work finally paid off. These weren’t just ordinary matches, especially the Olympic Games match (with Serena Williams – KhO).
Q: You had former world No. 1 and 7 Grand Slam singles titles holder Justine Henin on your team as a coaching consultant. What was her input in your game?
ES: As each player is unique, coaches use different approaches. She shared her game experience and emotions playing these big matches, her feelings during the victories in the finals of the Grand Slams, which are completely different story. It was quite valuable to get a feedback on my game style from such a great champion as I was in the transition period then. And together we came up with the tweaks needed to improve some elements of my game.
Q: Do you have any secrets on how to relax and focus before and during the match?
ES: I think proper breathing is very important. You should breathe really deep and think about your next step at the same time. You need to be able to pause for a moment to think what you are going to do. Not to predict, but to plan or craft your next step. Instead of thinking of mistakes you have to focus on positive things only and envision your next step, and the next one and the one after that.
Q: What keeps you inspired?
ES: I have very high personal goals in many aspects and I try to focus on them. Leaving negative things behind is a vital skill for being empowered. And also sticking to this very moment of your life is helpful.
My family also supports me. I have a family of athletes, my brother was a professional tennis player and used to be my coach for a couple of years in Odesa. Though now he is working in Los Angeles as a tennis coach. And all this is playing the major part in my career.
Q: The beginning of this year is favorable for you.
ES: Yes, it’s been a good journey and I am looking forward to this year and to the years to come. I do not believe in miracles, but I do believe in hard work and that it matters the most.
Elina also reflected on the statement regarding Australian Daria Gavrilova being a tough rival. “I don’t like the term “tough”. We’ve played many times since juniors, and we know each other’s style pretty well. I am my biggest rival!” she said.
Text: Olena Sokolynska, Anastasiya Makarenko
Pictures: Sergey Kozlov, Olena Sokolynska