Briana Foust

Elina Svitolina entered day one of Roland Garros as the oddsmakers’ favorite and the number four seed after defending her title in Rome last week. Her opponent on Sunday was Ajla Tomljanovic, a 25-year-old Croatian who now plays full time for Australia. Tomljanovic was once a rising junior, but in recent times has been rebuilding her game after a shoulder surgery derailed her young career. Sounds like a perfect opening draw for Svitolina, right?

Tomljanovic had other plans. She quickly raced to a 5-1 lead over Svitolina, using tactics from the Ukrainian’s own playbook. Tomljanovic kept impeccable length on her groundstrokes and did not give Svitolina a chance to create any magic on her own power.

When Tomjlanovic reached 5-1 in the first set there were murmurs in the crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen. That crowd’s previous view of Elina Svitolina was her massive capitulation in the quarterfinals of last year’s Roland Garros against Simona Halep. Svitolina lost that match 3-6 7-6 6-0 after holding a match point in the second set, costing her what could have been a pivotal and long hoped-for breakthrough in her career. A glimpse of Grand Slam glory had suddenly turned sour for the Ukrainian. She knew that she could beat the best on clay. Svitolina is a two-time champion of Rome, but her ability to persevere in the tightest moments on the biggest stages was still a work in progress.

After losing to Halep, Svitolina described her mindset late in the quarterfinal as “so much tension in the head.” She also stated she needed to be more “open minded” and focus on matters besides tennis to relieve the tension and pressure on — and in — her career. This year against Tomljanovic it looked like she was experiencing full-body tension as her Australian opponent rapidly won game after game. Svitolina’s newfound open-mindedness was tested, but as onlookers on Court Lenglen would soon find out for themselves, Svitolina has clearly translated an open mind into her physical training. She has pushed herself to a new level, and there’s no better way to ensure a clear mind than to essentially eliminate fatigue.

When down 5-1, Svitolina didn’t fret. She prepared herself to dig in as she has done in six other matches in 2018 (yes, six!) when she fell behind by four games or more. Her record in those matches? A confidence-inspiring 5 wins and 1 loss. If Elina Svitolina was into numerology or the reoccurrence of numbers in one’s life, I’m guessing the oracle would say she had Tomljanovic right where she wanted.

Image from Jimmie 48 Tennis Photography

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