Photo : Reuters
If Elina Svitolina finds her way back to competitive tennis this summer (as she recently hinted), we may get the chance to cheer her on at IGA Stadium this August.
And there’ll be more than one reason to rally behind her.
The first, of course, is the fact that she’s an excellent tennis player whose won 16 WTA titles and spent four and half years in the Top 10, from May 2017 to October 2021.
The second, much more significant, reason is because she’s been such a strong voice for her native Ukraine in the midst of the Russian invasion that’s been raging for a year now. A staunch supporter since the very beginning of the conflict, she’s never stopped denouncing the injustice that’s hit her country.
From the Swiss home base she shares with husband Gaël Monfils, she continues to share information to draw the world’s attention to the situation in her homeland. This past January, she sat down with New York Times tennis writer Christopher Clarey.
In the interview, she expressed her constant concern for her 85-year-old grandmother Tamara, who remains in the strategic southeastern port city of Odessa where Elina was born. “The winter is very tough right now for Ukrainians,” Svitolina said. “Obviously, it’s very cold, and they are often without electricity and running water. My grandmother lives on the 13th floor, and she needs to walk all the way up to her apartment because she cannot use the elevator. She could get stuck, or there are no lights at all. I have many friends in different cities, and they tell me the same stories. No lights. No water. They are just sitting at home. Most of the time, the phones die after one day so you cannot connect with them.”
Last December, in Monaco, the Elina Svitolina Foundation hosted its annual gala dinner and raised over US$250K for the organization and United24.
Marta Kostyuk and Lesia Tsurenko, Elina’s fellow Ukrainians and colleagues on the court, were in attendance.
Founded by Volodymyr Zelensky, the United24 global initiative has amassed donations from 110 countries that totaled $237M by the end of 2022.
On February 9, President Zelensky hosted his famous countrywoman in the presidential palace in Kyiv. Svitolina wore a blouse that read Glory to Ukraine to their meeting.
Elina Svitolina hasn’t competed since March 24, 2022, when she lost to Heather Watson in her opening-round match in Miami. Her most recent title came at the WTA 250 in Chicago on August 28, 2021.
For Elina, the stats, awards and events seem to be in the very distant past, lightyears away from what she’s felt for her fellow Ukrainians since the conflict broke out a year ago, on February 24. When she played her last match, the war had been raging for only a month.
Will she be back in 2023? Or ever? The questions are hypothetical, since she herself has said that, in motherhood and in her calls to action for her country, she’s only human.
A month after the start of the Russian invasion, she decided to put her career on hold.
And not long after, she shared the news she was pregnant. When she gave birth to Skaï Monfils in October, the new parents let the world know. Since then, they’ve very subtly and admirably safeguarded their privacy, hiding their daughter’s face in the photos they post online.
A touching and lovely decision by one of the sport’s power couples.
As for 36-year-old Gaël Monfils, he’s on the cusp of a comeback, possibly in Rotterdam or Marseille, after nursing the foot injury that had been hounding him since the last NBO in Montréal. He may retire after the 2024 Olympics, which will be decided on the courts at Roland-Garros.
And as for Elina, 28, she’s been talking about returning to tennis this summer. She’s healed the back injury that had slowed her down but still needs to get her fitness up to par to handle the tour’s grueling pace.
“I will try to be ready for the summer, but I try not to rush things,” she said. “Because I know I need to be very strong to be back on tour, because right now tennis is very physical. All your muscle groups need to be ready and after not playing for over seven months and not doing so much after pregnancy, of course, your body is different now. And I have to really break everything down into small pieces to put together the full strength of my body, which I will need if I want to get back to the top.”
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