WATCH: Elina Svitolina joined the Tennis Channel desk after beating 2022 semifinalist Martina Trevisan in the first round.

“These kinds of moments I feel a mixture of different feelings, but they are bad feelings. You know, they are anger, they are sadness, just heaviness. It's like this heaviness that I have on a daily basis, and all Ukrainians have.” Elina Svitolina, still a relatively new mother, after her second-round win at Roland Garros on how she feels when hearing news of the war being waged by Russia on Ukraine.


Perhaps the game ought to promote an official “Tennis Couple of the Year” award as part of the annual, year-end tributes. Right now, the front runners by a significant margin are Svitolina and her husband, Gael Monfils.

Both are playing at Roland Garros this year. Monfils, the beloved 36-year old is taking another run at glory following multiple battles with injury. On Tuesday, he galvanized his French compatriots with a heroic performance, surviving a brutal five-set first round clash. He was barely able to walk after spending nearly four hours on court under duress, and, 24 hours later, was forced to withdraw with a wrist injury.

Monfils' dramatics kept Svitolina up and glued to the television until midnight, even though she was scheduled to play at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. The morning found Monfils on site on Court Suzanne Lenglen to watch and support his wife, who ended up winning. She later said that Monfils' win had stoked her determination, as did his presence when she won her own match.

“He was there for me today,” Svitolina said afterwards. “He made such a big effort to come and support me, especially on a tough day like today. So really it motivated me to fight and not give up and play every point, to try to put 100 percent effort out there.”

Svitolina’s allusion to a “tough” day was no doubt a reference to the ongoing overnight attacks on Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. While the couple is currently experiencing domestic bliss—their daughter Skai, born last October, is now traveling with them—the steady drumbeat of ghastly news as Russia continues to pursue its savage, unprovoked war on Svitolina’s homeland colors her emotions as well as her actions.


Svitolina has balanced new motherhood with being a philanthropist for her war-torn homeland.

Svitolina has balanced new motherhood with being a philanthropist for her war-torn homeland. 

Svitolina, a 28-year old native of Odesa, was never known as an outspoken or forceful personality during her first turn on the tour. In fact, she was anything but. However, traumatic experiences like war have a way of reshaping human clay, and Svitolina now is a far different person from the cheerful, compliant pro we knew just a few years ago. She engages the world in a different way now. She has become a prominent voice, reminding the world of the horrors being visited upon her people on a daily basis.

These days, that voice further resonates with the credibility that comes from being a mother, one of humankind’s most time-honored sources of authority. She backs up her word with her acts, too. A few weeks ago, she donated the entire $34,224 that she earned for winning at Strasbourg to a charity supporting Ukrainian children.

“You know, there is so many things that we can do, and help in different ways.” she said. “You can donate a couple of dollars [that] might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people. You know, we are missing the main point of all of that and talking, talking, talking about nothing. Well, here, empty, completely empty words. Not helping.”

That final criticism seemed to be aimed at players, including those from Russian and its ally Belarus, who have issued only the most tepid anti-war cliches, careful to avoid naming names. Also, at journalists happy to produce click-bait stories about handshake snubs while failing to ask the important questions, like “Who do you want to prevail in this war?”


Largely, though, Svitolina has chosen to focus on generating material aid for Ukrainians, particularly children and women who have lost their husbands to the war. She said, “The kids, you know, they're losing their parents. They're losing parts of their bodies.”

Svitolina’s emotions fluctuate depending partly on news from her homeland. A Telegram channel tells her daily how many missiles were fired at Odesa, and how many found their targets. Meanwhile, she’s taking care of an infant daughter and supporting her husband. Then at some point she goes out to practice, or to play a tennis match.

“I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom,” she said. “And me, I'm fighting here on my own front line. I cannot be sad. I cannot be distracted, [then] I'm just going to lose.”

Svitolina explained that she was playing in Monterrey, Mexico, when the war began. It made her “very, very sad.” When she went out to play her next match, she had to fight back tears, and for the first time felt the heaviness that has become her omnipresent if unwanted companion. Then, after losing her match, she pulled herself together and decided: “Each time I step on the court I'm going to go 100 percent out and give everything.”

The heaviness is unlikely to go away any time soon. Svitolina is lucky that Monfils and Skai are there to help her carry the weight, and they are lucky to have a family built around such a strong woman.