The case for: Elina Svitolina

The young Ukrainian may be entering familiar territory, but believes she has learnt from last year's experience.

Elina Svitolina in action at Roland-Garros in 2017©Julien Crosnier/FFT
 - Matt Trollope

How appropriate it is that a French term perfectly summarises the situation Elina Svitolina finds herself in when arriving at Roland-Garros this year.

Déjà vu. It’s something we all say. It literally translates in English to “already seen”. English speakers use the term to express “a feeling of having already experienced the present situation.” (Thanks, Google Dictionary).

In 2017, Svitolina came to Paris ranked No.6, one of the favourites for the title after beating Simona Halep in the Rome final. This time, she again comes in as a favourite after having beaten Halep in the Rome decider. The only difference 12 months on? She’s ranked two places higher, at No.4.

There’s no reason the Ukrainian can’t hoist the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen. She’s an ultra-fit, lightning-fast competitor expertly blending offence and defence with a game perfectly suited to clay.

She’s beaten everyone there is to beat, winning her last six meetings with world No.1s and building an astonishing 10-2 record over top-five opponents since January 2017. Svitolina has won her last eight finals – four of those have come at WTA Premier 5 level, the rough equivalent of an ATP Masters 1000 title – and has won 12 of her 14 career finals.

These exospheric statistics make it all the more perplexing that she’s done so little, comparatively, at Grand Slam tournaments to date. Her two quarter-finals at Roland-Garros, as well as her last-eight finish at his year's Australian Open, remain the furthest she’s ever progressed in 22 major appearances.

“Definitely, on a Grand Slam, it's pressure from everywhere. And you probably also have expectations from yourself,” she admitted in Rome after thumping Halep 6-0 6-4 in a 67-minute decider.

“So you have to be mentally ready, physically ready. Probably extra more than the normal tournament. But I try to approach a Grand Slam same as any other tournament, that's why. But still, you have in the back of your mind that it is a Grand Slam. There is something different about it.”

In recent times, Svitolina has discovered in the most painful of ways just how different the pressure is that accompanies a Grand Slam campaign.

After beating Halep in Rome last year, the Ukrainian was dominating their re-match in the 2017 Roland-Garros quarter-finals, building a 6-3 5-1 lead before crashing to a 3-6 7-6(6) 6-0 defeat. A few months later at the US Open, she led Madison Keys 4-2 in the final set of their fourth-round encounter before the American reeled her in. At Melbourne Park this year, the draw had opened up beautifully for her, yet she came out flat against unseeded Elise Mertens and fell to a 6-4 6-0 quarter-final defeat.

As is becoming typical, Svitolina bounced back to win prestigious events in Dubai and then in Rome – she also won the Brisbane International in the run-up to Melbourne – and has again generated discussions surrounding her title favouritism on Parisian clay.

Yet she insists that in 2018, it’s not a case of déjà vu on the eve of Roland-Garros.

This time, she says, she’s prepared.

“It's gonna be different, definitely, from the last year,” she said. “Last year was almost first time for me going into the Grand Slam as a favourite. This year, it's different. I also was hoping I was one of the favourites.

“There was couple of Grand Slams that I was close. But still it's gonna be different. I'm going to take it as a challenge first. And for me, very important to take one match at a time and just go out there and enjoy playing on the big courts, (the) atmosphere.

“Roland Garros, that's what we are training for. And I'm gonna give it the best shot.”