Elina Svitolina is trying to learn not to put too much pressure on herself and she now has former world No1, Justine Henin, in her corner to help her achieve that.
Henin, a seven-time grand slam champion and the most successful player in the history of the Dubai tournament with four titles, has joined Team Svitolina as a consultant after spending time with the young Ukrainian during her offseason training in Abu Dhabi last December.
Svitolina played her first match with Henin in her corner on Tuesday and it proved a positive start for the pair as the 21-year-old claimed a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Slovakian qualifier Jana Cepelova.
Having already made a grand slam quarter-final, at the French Open last year, Svitolina had high expectations of herself at the Australian Open last month but she ended up suffering a shock second round defeat to world No127 Naomi Osaka.
“Australian Open was bad start for me. It was really tough to go through it because I had high expectations,” Svitolina said on Tuesday.
“Probably need to learn from it, to don’t put so much pressure on myself. Just to go out there and enjoy playing, enjoying playing my best. So this is the goal for the moment, because it was too much pressure.”
Svitolina won the Roland Garros junior title in 2010 then got invited to train at the Justine Henin Academy in Belgium, which is where she got acquainted with the Belgian legend.
She is still unclear how often Henin will be travelling with her but is excited about the new partnership, while insisting Iain Hughes remains her main coach.
“I have a coach and consultant for now. It’s great to have Justine in my team, and I worked with her in the offseason for a little bit, and now she is going to join us for some tournaments,” explained Svitolina.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the hard work. Of course there have been some small changes, but we are trying to do something new what can refresh my game.”
Asked if the fact Henin is practically the queen of the Dubai tournament is a good omen for her, Svitolina laughed and said: “She not only won four times here, she has some amazing results in other tournaments and the grand slams. So it’s amazing to have her experience and have her in my box and just being around.”
Svitolina faces Garbine Muguruza on Wednesday in the second round for a place in the Dubai quarter-finals.
The 21-year-old said: “It was a good start but then I struggled a little bit to finish the set. But I’m really happy that a good finish with two sets and only gave up four games. It was a good start.”
Svitolina will now face 2015 semi-finalist and second seed Garbine Muguruza in the next round.
“She’s good player. She was No. 2 and now, I don’t know, top five. She’s good player. Just need to play my game, to focus on my things. That’s what’s the most important for now.”
I moved to Dubai last December during the offseason and I’m quite excited about it.
I had been thinking about it for some time. I really love the city. There is just so many things to do, I also have a lot of friends here… For my lifestyle as a tennis player, there are super nice conditions for practicing, always nice weather, nice people…
It’s also a coincidence that I’ve also been playing for the UAE Royals team in the IPTL for the past two years, so I really feel at home here.
I had a couple of days here before the tournament started and it was just great being able to stay at my place in Dubai Marina. The apartment I’m renting there is super nice, I have three bedrooms, all my family is here, I feel like this is a home tournament for me.
I took some time to decide if I wanted to have the Dubai Marina view or the sea view, so front row like where Roger Federer is and the Cayenne Tower etc… But I chose the Marina view. I love that area, Pier 7, The Walk, and now they did this amazing area, The Beach, which has so many restaurants.
When the tournament started, I decided to stay here at the on-site hotel, the Jumeirah Creekside, because it’s otherwise a 20- or 30-minute drive – without traffic – every morning and every night from my apartment to the stadium.
We had a great offseason here. After the IPTL, I stayed here the whole time until Australia then I had everything in a row, Australia, Fed Cup, St. Peterburg…so I couldn’t come back. And now I’m here, it’s exciting.
Obviously living the life of a player, we have a lot of tournaments and are travelling all the time so it’s not like I’m going to be here very often, but I’ll try as much as I can. The only thing that’s going to be difficult is when the summer comes when it’s super hot here.
I thought it would be great to practice, that it would help me prepare for the US swing where the weather is hot and humid, but my friends told me, no, the heat is not the same, it’s another level here.
But I know that Roger did it a few times, coming here in the summer to practice. He told me he did it once or twice. Let’s see, maybe I’ll give it a try. I’ll probably come for a few days after Wimbledon.
World No30 Kristina Mladenovic’s daily diary for Sport360° during the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is conducted via conversations with our reporter Reem Abulleil.