It is now time for the French Open! This Sunday evening, Elina Svitolina, the 24 year old 9-seed from Ukraine, faces off against the unseeded 38 year old American, Venus Williams in the first round. Svitolina is coming into the second Grand Slam having a mediocre start to the year. Ever since her successful run at Indian Wells, she has won very few matches. This is mainly because she injured her knee in February. One of Svitolina’s strengths is her amazing athleticism, so if her knee is bothering her, she will not be able to utilize that strength as much as she would like. However, if her knee is not bothering her, she will definitely be able to outplay Venus, particularly in the longer rallies. In order to play one of the Williams sisters, you have to be very mentally tough. Luckily, for Svitolina, she is one of the more mentally strong women on tour, and she will not give up, no matter what the score is.
Venus Williams, in her 82nd Major appearance, is unseeded and outside of the top 50 for the first time in a while. Having had a poor clay season herself, she and Svitolina are coming into this match with fairly equal levels of confidence. Known for her clean, powerful groundstrokes and her great serve, Venus will have to make sure she has strong service games, and hit behind Svitolina, who is great at tracking down balls with her athleticism. Svitolina’s injured knee will be an advantage for Venus if there are long rallies, so Venus’s making sure she does not miss early on in the rallies will be very beneficial. However, Venus has not been fully healthy in a while either.
From the very first point in the first set, Svitolina is hitting hard, flat, and deep. Svitolina does not usually look to be the most aggressive player on the court with her counterpunching game style, particularly against someone like Venus. Svitolina’s aggressiveness took Venus by surprise, causing Venus to hit many unforced errors. Both are hitting aggressively in this match, trying to hit through their opponents. When they would get in a backhand cross court rally, Svitolina would win the majority of those rallies because Svitolina’s backhand is her steady shot. It is rare for a backhand to be someone’s steady shot, but it is recognizable when someone would rather to take a backhand than a forehand on balls that go down the middle. Svitolina does not run around her backhand to hit her forehand, which should have been a sign to Venus that she actually likes to hit her backhand. However, because Venus did not recognize that, their backhand cross court rallies ended with Venus missing first.
Additionally, Venus is having troubles closing out the points at the net because she is not getting low enough on her volleys. For any shot in tennis, getting low is crucial. Your legs are what allow you shot get the ball over the net, and to give your shots more control. When you are at the net, using your legs is even more important because you have less time to adjust to the balls, since you are not letting the balls bounce. Svitolina is able to get an extra ball back when Venus is at the net, and not using enough legs, and Venus misses the easy put-away volleys.
Svitolina is having a low first serve percentage, and with someone who hits hard like Venus, giving Venus second serves virtually ensures that you will be broken. Each player is hitting very aggressive returns, so there are more breaks than holds in the beginning of the first set. Svitolina is doing a good job of taking a shot that is a little bit weaker as a short ball, and attacking it with her backhand cross court. However, if Svitolina does not hit her backhand cross court with enough of an angle, Venus is able to take it early and hit a winner down the line. In a match where each player is being aggressive, if you hit any short ball or a ball to close to the center where they can step in and put it away, the point is pretty much over. As long as Svitolina manages to hit her shots either angled or away from the center, she should be able to win the majority of the points. Svitolina’s ball placement, along with Venus’ high amount of unforced errors is what led Svitolina to win the first set 6-3.
Even though short down the middle is an easy shot for Venus to put away, deep down the middle is actually giving her some trouble. When someone hits deep down the middle, you have to take a short and quick take-back with your racquet and use your legs, and absorb the power that is hit at you. Venus is not using her legs, and instead of leaning into the ball, is falling backwards and hitting off balanced. For someone like Kerber, who gets very low on her shots, hitting deep and down the middle against her is not as effective. But against someone like Venus, who does not get very low, deep and down the middle is very effective.
In the second set, Venus is starting to hit behind Svitolina very well, as well as starting to hit to her forehand–her less steady shot. However, Venus is trying to go for too small of targets from behind the baseline, causing many unforced errors. Svitolina does such a great job of tracking balls that Venus feels pressured to go for small targets. Venus keeps serving to Svitolina’s backhand, and Svitolina keeps hitting amazing returns. Venus needs to start to serve to the forehand. Even if she prefers the placement of hitting to the backhand, if she wants to win this match, she is going to have to have more variety on her serve. Svitolina’s athleticism really comes into play when Venus goes to the net; she does a great job of tracking down balls and hitting passing shots.
Overall, Svitolina’s injury did not show and she was able to outplay Venus significantly. Venus kept hitting to Svitolina’s backhand, which is her stronger shot, allowing Svitolina to win the cross court backhand rallies. Venus did not use her legs enough when Svitolina hit deep, allowing Svitolina to be the more aggressive player. Even though Venus is a great net player, Svitolina’s athleticism did not allow Venus to have easy net points, and Venus was instead passed quite a bit from the net.
Final score: 6-3, 6-3.