Svitolina, Muguruza problem-solve under pressure

No.3 seed Svitolina advanced in straight sets, whilst Muguruza endured a three-hour marathon

Elina Svitolina, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Key contenders Elina Svitolina and Garbine Muguruza are fully aware that the chasing pack is going from strength to strength. There is simply no room for complacency.

That means third seed Svitolina and 2016 Roland-Garros champion Muguruza must adapt, harnessing a champion’s mentality right from the very first rally.

For two-time major winner Muguruza, through to the second round following a gruelling three-hour tussle with world No.83 Tamara Zidansek, the Spaniard has been there and done that.

As for world No.5 Svitolina, champion in Strasbourg two days ago, the Ukrainian is intent on illustrating a positive persona on court, no matter the score, no matter the form. She hopes such mental fortitude can build the foundations to launch a major bid.

“Definitely it’s not natural. I have to work very hard to get where I am mentally. Every match, every tournament is a battle against myself first,” admitted the 26-year-old, overcoming a spirited effort from Russian Varvara Gracheva 7-6(2), 6-4 on Court Suzanne-Lenglen to set up a second round against Mexican qualifier Renata Zarazua.   

“It’s so important for me to keep the focus and my mind in the right place.”

Garbine Muguruza, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Players often refer to ‘finding a way’ which Svitolina believes is integral to remaining in the upper echelons of the rankings and in major contention.

“I think for everybody it's different, but my meaning of 'finding the way', most of the time when the players are going out on the court, they know how to hit forehands, know how to hit backhands. Especially right now everyone is extremely fit and ready to compete on the high level,” analysed the Ukrainian, who has featured in quarter-finals and semi-finals at the majors, but is seeking that next significant step.

“Any player I think who is entered in the main draw or even quallies, they can play really good one set, one set and a half, so you have to find your way around it. You have to be really tough on yourself to bring your best game each time you step on the court.”

For Muguruza the factor that is so tricky to remember within the confines of the court is patience, especially when tackling players eager to inflict a costly defeat on a top seed.

“I think just a little bit of everything. Probably staying calm. I know she (Zidansek) was playing amazing tennis since the first set, so I just knew that I just have to wait for my opportunities. So, I was just trying to stay calm until I saw the chance, and then I went for it," said the 11th-seeded Muguruza, who plays Kristyna Pliskova in the second round.

The 2020 Australian Open finalist is on the same page as Svitolina, highlighting that the top 100 and beyond are a far more threatening opposition in recent campaigns. The margins for error keep getting smaller and smaller.

“Yeah, definitely the level has increased. Now everyone is more fit and prepared, and physically it's a huge difference compared to probably another decade ago,” declared the Spaniard, registering a 22nd match win of 2020 from 0-3 down in the decider to overcome Zidansek 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 under the lights on Court Simonne-Mathieu.

“It’s always tough now in the first rounds. It's always like little details at the end between the great players and the good players. Especially in first rounds, you can always have surprises. You can always not feel great. Then your opponent, you know what? She's playing great and she wants it as much as you, and you're out.”

Svitolina hopes her 15th WTA title in Strasbourg on Saturday can propel her challenge for major glory in Paris.

“I had good matches in Strasbourg, and I think they definitely gave me the confidence to play well, to move better, and gave me this little push after Rome because I played only few matches in Rome and I wanted to get better on the clay,” continued the two-time Roland-Garros quarter-finalist.

“I have been training for one-and-a-half months, so I just needed to really be focused, to be in the zone of the matches. I had few good players against me who I beat, it was a very positive week for me. Hopefully I can transfer that to the matches here.”