Elina Svitolina believes the dramatic weight loss she has experienced this season is paying off, and responded to concerns over her body’s sudden transformation.
The Ukrainian world No. 7, who reached the semi-finals in Montreal last week and is seeded No. 5 in Cincinnati with a bye in the first round, acknowledges that she has lost a significant amount of weight during the spring and feels the decision to do so has helped her tennis.
Several pundits have noted the recent change and are worried it could negatively affect her game or health.
“We all can see the difference and everyone has their opinion on anything. We’re trying different things with my team,” Svitolina told reporters in Cincinnati on Monday.
“I’m trying to improve, trying to play better in the Grand Slams, that’s the main goal for me. We try to do something different, something that can help. If you don’t try, you cannot see the difference.
“I know there has been a huge difference between the beginning of the year and now. We try to learn from each step we do and I think it’s up to me and my team to see and decide what’s next.”
Svitolina is still in search of a first Grand Slam title, having fallen in the last-eight stage three times so far at the majors.
The 23-year-old, who plays Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Cincinnati second round, is 32-10 win-loss this season and has bagged three titles in 2018, triumphing in Brisbane, and defending her Dubai and Rome titles.
“I think I’m on the right path now already. I’ve been playing really well, I beat good players, I’m feeling much, much better now, on the court, off the court. You cannot guarantee the results even if you’re training for two months really hard, you cannot guarantee that you’re going to win all the next tournaments,” added Svitolina.
“The only thing you can have is a better chance to play better and to be prepared and be more fresh. For me, I think I gave myself a good chance to play well and we can see that I’m better.”
She added: “Everyone has a different opinion on this and for me, it was just that I wanted to try something different and that’s the only thing for me. Some people think it’s better to have maybe more muscle, some people think you’ll hit stronger, we’re trying and learning.”
Svitolina’s most recent Grand Slam appearance saw her lose in the first round at Wimbledon to German world No. 57 Tatjana Maria. Also this season, she fell in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open in January against Elise Mertens, and was stunned by Mihaela Buzarnescu in the third round at Roland Garros.
On the WTA tour though, Svitolina has kept up her strong results from last year (she won five titles in 2017), and is tied for ninth on the list of match win leaders this season entering Cincinnati.
She insists she didn’t feel pressure at the start of 2018, despite being in the position of having to defend many points from the previous year.
“I was not nervous about it, I don’t know why. My coaches were more nervous than me because every time I defended a title, they were really surprised,” admits Svitolina.
“I don’t really think about the past so much. Because tennis is the kind of sport that if you go back, going back in the situation that you didn’t do well or you did well, you lose this momentum because every week we’re in a new place, new tournament, new challenge, and that’s why you lose the momentum sometimes.
“So that’s why I learned a lot that you have to stay in the present. That’s the most important thing because you can win big tournaments then next week you’re playing in one day and you have to be ready to play well, otherwise you get knocked out.”
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Djokovic emerged from a difficult two-year period to make a stunning run to the Wimbledon title last month, adding a 13th major to his tally, and shooting back into the world’s top-10.
Murray, who spent nearly a year away from the sport dealing with a hip injury that required surgery, played just his seventh match of the season on Monday in Cincinnati but built some momentum by making the quarter-finals in Washington earlier this month.
Cincinnati was supposed to be the first reunion for all members of the ‘Big Four’ (Rafael Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray) since Wimbledon last year but Nadal made a last-minute withdrawal after he clinched the title in Toronto on Sunday.
Still, with the quartet all set to contest the US Open – which starts on August 27 – Federer is expecting a scorcher in New York.
The Swiss was shocked by Kevin Anderson in a marathon five-setter in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last month and witnessed Djokovic secure the trophy from afar. He believes the Serb’s triumph can only mean good things for tennis.
“I think that’s why we have an exciting draw here. Of course it’s a pity Rafa is not playing, which would add massively to that section of the draw there now, that he’s not there, it’s a bit of a bummer. But other than that you have still these amazing draws, with [Milos] Raonic floating, [Kei] Nishikori floating a little bit, Stan [Wawrinka], Murray, even Novak who is not quite in the top-four yet in the rankings. So you just don’t know where they’re going to be situated in the draw,” Federer told reporters in Cincinnati on Monday, where he is looking to win the title for an eighth time.
Djokovic began his Cincinnati campaign overnight, against Steve Johnson, and is seeded No. 10 in the Masters 1000 event. He was initially drawn in Nadal’s quarter of the draw but the Spaniard has now been replaced by Tunisian lucky loser Malek Jaziri.
“Novak winning Wimbledon obviously that was massive, I don’t think he expected it,” continued Federer.
“I remember the press conference he gave after Paris [losing to Marco Cecchinato] when he was like ‘I don’t know yet I was frustrated, I just want to get out of here’. And people were asking him ‘What, you’re not going to play the grass?’ And then he should have won Queens and goes on to win Wimbledon, so things can turn very quickly, regardless if you’re positive or not, sometimes when you just put yourself out there and then you get excited in a quarters of semis of a Slam you can start playing your best tennis.
“I thought it was great for the sport, I’m happy for him because I know it probably it hasn’t been easy the last couple of years for him but then again I don’t think anybody should be feeling sorry for him, like people feeling sorry for me or Rafa, we’ve had so much success that it’s just more beautiful when you do come back after a tough time.”
Djokovic’s Wimbledon success ended a streak of six consecutive Grand Slams captured by either Nadal or Federer and the trio will have all eyes on them at the US Open in two weeks’ time.
“Novak can play with less pressure again I guess, to some extent, but you can always get caught up in the pressure, the media saying ‘well clearly now you’re going to win the US Open’, and you’re like ‘Well, I guess so, yes’. And then rather than you being able to say ‘Well, we’ll see what happens’, perspective changes from your side but also from the media. But definitely exciting times, a lot of the best players are back in the game and I think the US Open is going to be epic,” said the 37-year-old Federer, who plays Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk in the second round in Cincinnati.
Murray fell to France’s Lucas Pouille in the first round on Monday 6-1, 1-6, 6-4.
Germany’s No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev is the defending champion and heads to Canada in the same position he was in 12 months ago, fresh off of a title run at the Citi Open in Washington D.C.
Ukrainian world No. 5 Elina Svitolina is the title holder and will be making her first appearance since a disappointing first-round exit at Wimbledon last month.
Here are six things to know about this week’s Rogers Cup.
STRONG ON DEFENCE
Both Zverev and Svitolina have had success as defending champions.
Zverev repeated his title runs in Munich and Washington this year after lifting the trophies there in 2017, while Svitolina went back-to-back in both Dubai and Rome in 2017 and 2018. She also defended her Baku title back in 2014.
While they are yet to fulfil their Grand Slam potential, Zverev and Svitolina have certainly established themselves as powerhouses on tour and do not succumb to the pressure of being the reigning champion at a tournament.
The ATP Rogers Cup is the only one of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments to be won by five different players over the past five editions, with Alexander Zverev (2017), Novak Djokovic (2016), Andy Murray (2015), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2014), and Rafael Nadal (2013) crowned champions in Canada over the last few seasons. Will we get a sixth different winner in a row this week?
After losing in the San Jose first round last week to Johanna Konta, Serena Williams pulled out of Montreal citing personal reasons. Fellow Americans CoCo Vandeweghe (right ankle) and Madison Keys (right wrist) have also pulled out while Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova – a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon last month – has withdrawn due to illness.
On the men’s side, Roger Federer and Andy Murray are the most notable absentees with the former opting for a light schedule and the latter recovering from a gruelling few matches in Washington last week.
In Toronto, Novak Djokovic opens against Chung Hyeon, who defeated the Serb en route to the Australian Open semi-finals in January. Swiss wildcard Stan Wawrinka faces Aussie big-hitter Nick Kyrgios, No. 11 seed Diego Schwartzman takes on British No. 1 Kyle Edmund, home favourite Milos Raonic kicks off his campaign against No. 10 seed David Goffin while Greek teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas squares off with Bosnian Damir Dzumhur.
In Montreal, 12th-seeded Daria Kasatkina opens against San Jose runner-up Maria Sakkari, Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka faces Spanish qualifier Carla Suarez Navarro, ex-world No. 1 and Belarusian wildcard Victoria Azarenka takes on crafty Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic and local wildcard Eugenie Bouchard starts against 14th-seeded Elise Mertens.
On the men’s tour, the No. 1 ranking has swapped hands between Nadal and Federer six times already this season, but with Nadal now a healthy 2,230 points ahead of the Swiss in the rankings, and Federer opting out of Toronto, which means he’ll drop runner-up points from last year, the gap between the pair will increase this week.
Simona Halep started her 40th week (24th in a row) as world No. 1 on Monday and is 851 points ahead of second-ranked Caroline Wozniacki. Halep has semi-final points to defend from last year in Canada, while Wozniacki has runner-up points to defend. The Dane cannot usurp Halep in the rankings this week.
EYES ON THE WIMBLEDON CHAMPS
Angelique Kerber will be making her first appearance since lifting the Wimbledon trophy last month – her third Grand Slam title – while Djokovic is also playing for the first time since claiming a fourth crown at the All England Club. With both of them back on their favourite surface, the pair will be looking to keep the momentum going on the hard courts of Canada.