Charleston | Svitolina takes Putintseva to the wire…

While it may not have been the result Elina Svitolina was hoping for, it was nevertheless a triumphant return to match-play for the former World No 3, who signalled she is yet to be a force to be reckoned with on the WTA Tour.

I had goosebumps and it was a really, really sweet atmosphere out there. It was nice to see so many people, and they were cheering me on. I’m really happy with the way I played today. I pushed through some tough moments, because it was not easy physically for me today. It showed, I think, that I'm not at my best but I'm getting there. Now I can see, more clear, what I have to improve to be better. Elina Svitolina

The two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist from Ukraine narrowly lost her opening match to Yulia Putintseva, 6-7(3) 6-2 6-4, at the Credit One Charleston Open, the WTA 500 clay court event in South Carolina, on Monday after a 2 hour 46 minute battle of wills.

Svitolina left the tour a little over a year ago, injured, and citing the stress of Russia’s invasion of her country had taken its toll on her mental health.

She fundraised, raised awareness and became an ambassador of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s United 24, the foundation that funnels aid to the stricken country and its citizens.

She also became a mother, giving birth to a daughter in October, Skaii, with her husband Gael Monfils, before taking to the gym to train for a possible return to matchplay at Wimbledon.

It all went so well that she decided to bring her return forward to the clay court season, and opted on Charleston to give it a go, adding a fundraiser for Ukraine on Sunday night to boot.

She trained alongside Monfils, who was coming back from an injury, starting in the New Year.

“Good company,” Svitolina said. “We really motivated each other to train really hard, every day.”

Monfils went to California and Florida to play tournaments, and is now at home in Monaco with Skaii, FaceTiming with Svitolina as much as possible.

“She loves the phone. She holds the phone. It’s not going to be easy to take the phone from her in the future,” Svitolina said with a laugh. “She’s getting used to FaceTime.”

This is the longest Svitolina has been away from her baby since a week-long trip to Ukraine in February, when she visited her grandmother, uncle and other relatives, and joined former pro Sergiy Stakhovsky in holding a tennis clinic for 300 kids amid the war that began a year earlier when Russia invaded.

Svitolina says it is ‘sad’ that the All England Club announced last week it will be allowing players from Russia and Belarus, which aided in the attack, to play The Championships this year after being banned from the tournament in 2022 because of the invasion.

Yulia Putintseva eventually wore down Elina Svitolina with well-timed drop-shots in just short of 3 hours play

Credit One Charleston Open/Facebook

Her ranking may have dropped to No 1,081, but Svitolina is still a big name so the WTA 500 organisers were pleased to give her a wild-card into the main draw, and her first outing did not disappoint, keeping fans on the edge of their seats as they watched the very tight contest unfold on the main stadium’s green clay on a cloudy, breezy day.

She fought Putintseva, the World No 47, tooth and nail, forcing the first set in a tiebreak and taking her Kazakh opponent deep in the decider.

Showing no signs of rust in a 70-minute opening set, Svitolina led by a break twice early on, but, later, had to save a set point in the 10th game, and then came from 1-3 down to win the last 6 points of the tiebreak, and with it, wrapped up a one-set lead.

Unsurprisingly, Svitolina’s energy levels dipped in the second as the adrenaline wore off, and Putintseva’s game plan of getting the Ukrainian moving with deft drop-shots at every available opportunity was met with growing success.

She broke Svitolina twice in the second set, and 3 times in the third, before carving out 2 inch-perfect backhand drop-shots, one at break point, and the other on match point, to finish the Ukrainian off in the come-from-behind win.

“I had goosebumps and it was a really, really sweet atmosphere out there,” 28-year old Svitolina told the Tennis Channel about the warm welcome she has received after 13 months away. “It was nice to see so many people, and they were cheering me on.

“I’m really happy with the way I played today.

“I pushed through some tough moments, because it was not easy physically for me today. It showed, I think, that I’m not at my best but I’m getting there.

“Now I can see, more clear, what I have to improve to be better.”

The unmistakable competitiveness and zest to win had kept her in the match, but the lack of match-fitness ultimately proved her undoing.

No 2 seed Ons Jabeur is delighted to see Elina Svitolina back on tour, and the two practised together on Sunday

Credit One Charleston Open/Facebook

It isn’t just the fans who are happy to see Svitolina back, who is popular in the locker room.

“It’s so nice to have her back,” Paula Badosa said. “She’s always been an inspiration for me. She’s been a warrior on court, a fighter—I really like these kinds of players.

“And now after being a mom, I mean, I think that’s very inspirational. It’s nice to have a mother back inside with the best players in the world again.”

Ons Jabeur added: ”It was very nice catching up with her. I’m happy for her—I just called her the new mom on tour.

“If she’s very patient, I hope she can come back at her level. She’s an amazing player; we also played juniors together. It’s very nice to see her.”

Jabeur and Svitolina, who played each other way back in juniors, practised together on Sunday in Charleston.

As Putintseva moves on to be the first opponent for No 7 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova from Russia, who just reached the quarter-finals at the Miami Open, Svitolina will head to smaller venues on the lesser levels, a tournament in Switzerland with $60,000 in total prize money, and one in Portugal offering $100,000.

Sloane Stephens needed 3 sets but prevailed over qualifier Louisa Chirico and meets Victoria Azarenka next

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In other Day 1 matches, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens won 3-6 6-1 6-2 against her American compatriot qualifier Louisa Chirico, 17-year-old Czech Linda Fruhvirtova beat Jil Teichmann from Switzerland, 6-2 3-6 6-2, Russian Anna Kalinskaya defeated Ukrainian No 1 Anhelina Kalinina, 7-6(6) 6-4, qualifier Katherine Sebov from Canada got past another American in Lauren Davis, 4-6 6-1 6-2, Russia’s Anna Blinkova eliminated Hungary’s Anna Bondar, 7-6(7) 6-2 to set up a 2nd-round match-up against top-seeded Jessica Pegula from Spain, and 15th-seeded Irina Camilia Begu of Romania saw off Hungarian Dalma Galfi, 6-1 7-5.

Stephens, ranked 50, advances to play another former Grand Slam winner, No 6 seed Victoria Azarenka, next., against whom she holds a 4-3 edge over the Belarusian in their head-to-head, including wins in their last 4 matches.

All 4 completed matches on the Credit One Stadium went the distance, after Fruhvirtova opened play upending No 14 seed Teichmann, while Sebov took out Davis, the Hobart champion.

After Stephens’ win, Monday night’s session was interrupted by rain and the 1st-round match between America’s Sofia Kenin and Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus was halted twice, play was officially suspended until Tuesday during the third rain delay, with Kenin leading 6-1 6-7(5), 3-0.

The match that was expected to cap Monday’s slate of play, American Caroline Dolehide against former champion Sabine Lisicki, a German qualifier, was also postponed.

Meanwhile, during the day, Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, ranked 64, moved into the 2nd-round by defeating American wild-card Fiona Crawley 6-0 6-2, and will face Kalinskaya, the No 11 seed, next, while Julia Grabher from Australia upset China’s Zhang Shuai, the 10th seed, 6-4 1-6 6-3, and Sacha Vickery won the all-American battle of qualifiers by beating Kayla Day, 6-2 6-2.

Also out is the giant-killing Estonian, Kaia Kanepi, tamed by American Madison Brengle, 6-3 6-4.

Of the 3 Ukrainians in action on Monday, only Lesia Tsurenko advanced, with a 6-1 6-1 win over Argentine qualifier Paula Ormaechea, and the World No 77 now lines up against 2nd-seeded Ons Jabeur on Tuesday.

A general view of the Credit One Stadium on Daniel Island, South Carolina

Credit One Charleston Open/Facebook



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