French Open 2019: Svitolina scores big win to start her campaign
Elina Svitolina showed her comfort to start the French Open on Sunday. The 24-year-old and two-time quarter-finalist made her mark against Venus Williams who erred against the fast-hitting world number nine to go down in straight sets 6-3, 6-3 on Simonne Mathieu Court on the grounds of Roland Garros. It was the second year in a row that the American superstar failed to get out of the opening round with such a severe draw that never let up.
This was only the third time the superstars of the sport met and it was the first time in Slam events. The Ukrainian found a way to even the series with Williams two years ago, winning in Toronto. With an increase of success on clay courts, the 24-year-old came into Paris with a heavier experience but with a concern in regards to her performance.
While dealing with a knee injury, Svitolina couldn’t get deep into any of the tournaments. A loss in Rome not only killed her title defense but also left her Roland Garros participation in doubt. The American didn’t have that concern and despite losing in Rome as well, she looked forward to her 22nd start and hoped to surpass the first round for the first time in two years.
Knowing the start she needed, Williams blanked Svitolina to open the first game to make sure she set the pace high. The ninth seed answered the call and notched a serve to love and immediately went for a break chance in the third.
She almost had Williams shutout but the American got on the board until a shot into the net cut the comeback short. Adding a third to the Ukrainian’s bottom line became difficult as Williams forced deuce to try and get back on track. It took some effort to deny Svitolina the AD point and clinch the break back to level at two apiece.
Svitolina was pressured in the fifth as Williams got into a heavy competition with her for control but despite the shots that came from her serve, the 24-year-old got through it to add another break for the American. Williams was done with the close scoring between the two and scored a break to love that made it the fourth straight. The ninth seed had no problems answering the same way Williams did and let her know it with a shutout in the seventh.
Clinching a hold to end the break of serves was the key for Svitolina as she managed to hold off Williams and take the 5-3 lead, playing for a shot at the set. Svitolina made the jump and gained two set points to comfortably put the first set to completion in 36 minutes. Despite a tough second serve that saw the Ukrainian winning 27 percent, she managed to keep the first in check and only had seven unforced errors compared to Williams who had 18.
Neither seemed to be done breaking one another and for Williams, getting the first break was an important start. Svitolina broke back in the second but erred just enough to allow the American to hold serve in the third. It was her first lead in the match. Svitolina didn’t want to let the 38-year-old get out of her clutch but a hard-fought game in the fourth went to the tennis veteran for a 3-1 score.
The Ukrainian got back in reach with a hold of serve in the fifth before a key break of the Williams serve allowed her to level at three. She returned to lead the set as Williams had problems keeping the ball inside that handed the ninth seed an easy hold. Gaining another break put the Ukrainian in a comfortable position to put the match away with two games still left to play.
With the serve in hand in the ninth, the 24-year-old kept the forehand strong, putting across difficult shots for Williams to handle. She saw her end come quickly as the ninth seed got two match points until the second serve let her down for a moment. Williams got to deuce but getting an AD point was not in her destiny as the 24-year-old had it clinched with a crosscourt shot coming back wide by the American that ended the match in 1 hour and 13 minutes.
"It was a very tough draw to play Venus,” Svitolina said after the match. “It is always a great pleasure to play against her. I admire her and Serena for doing a lot for our sport so it’s always amazing to share the court with them and to get a win after a tough time with my knee injury is just amazing.”
It was the first time Svitolina played on the new court and felt comfortable during her opening round. “It’s an amazing court and I really enjoyed playing on it so it’s amazing to play in the botanical garden and an enjoyable court.” She’ll have a slightly enjoyable second round as she faces fellow Ukrainian Kateryna Kozlova.