Elina Svitolina in action in Rome
Elina Svitolina in action Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: World No. 5 Elina Svitolina has tapped in a mental coach to help her deliver a solid, steady approach for the new season starting with her ‘home’ tournament at this week’s season-opening Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.

The Ukrainian captured two titles in 2020 in Monterrey and Strasbourg while adding a third quarter-final appearance at Roland Garros last season.

The 2019 WTA Finals champion has been drawn to open her season this week against rising American talent Jessica Pegula, while possibly tackling 2020 Palermo champion Fiona Ferro or Vera Zvonareva in the second round at the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre.

“I think things have been pretty difficult and different for everyone during this pandemic period. It is now equally important to stay strong and fresh. It’s a different kind of a pressure,” Svitolina explained about her hiring of a mental coach towards the end of last year.

“It’s a different sort of atmosphere this year, and I was already thinking in terms of a mental coach towards the end of last season [2019] as I realised how important it is to stay focused and do everything that will assist me in reaching goals, especially during these tough times,” she added.

Being restrained indoors and with the family have taught her vital life lessons and Svitolina doesn’t want to throw these away. “We have seen what the last season has done. Life doesn’t end on a tennis court. There is a private life as well. There is family and there are outside pressures too,” she explained.

“I am trying to be in a good state of mind, and that means I need to have the right people around me with the right frame of mind. At the moment, it is important for me to share with her [mental coach] what is happening inside me, even the smallest and darkest secrets that no one would otherwise know. And when I started to work with her it really released a lot of pressure moments from me. She opened me up and pushed the right buttons,” Svitolina stressed.

Finding the right person as mental coach wasn’t easy either. “I got introduced to a couple of other coaches, but I didn’t strike it with them. And then this lady came along and it took me some courage before I got the courage to open up with her. It’s a matter of finding the right person. Or rather it’s like finding a right husband or a right coach. You can look for a long time and not find. I find that my present coach is not picky and we share a lot while finding the right way for me to feel good and stronger mentally,” Svitolina said.

For the time-being the mental coach will not be travelling with Svitolina. “It’s a bit too complicated, so I decided not to have her travel, but rely on distance consulting. She is on her phone all the time,” the 26-year-old Ukrainian related.

Svitolina is no stranger to the UAE. In 2017, the Ukrainian defeated Carolina Wozniacki to win the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open and pick up her first of three WTA Premier titles for that season. And since then, she has used mostly Abu Dhabi as her training base for four successive years.

“I know the centre court pretty well and it is a good feeling to be back in a place where I have spent so many hours,” she said.

Coming to Abu Dhabi wasn’t too tough a choice as the 26-year-old felt she needed to have a few matches heading into the season’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne. Svitolina will meet American Pegula in their first round match on Wednesday.

“I think she [Pegula] is a good player. She is very aggressive and I have to be ready for her as I don’t know her so much after she missed a couple of seasons due to injury. We are the same age and we have played juniors at the same time. I am sure my coach will sit down and break down the game plan for me. The first match is never easy and I will put everything together for that match,” Svitolina asserted.

“As far as coming here goes, it was not too difficult a decision as I instantly decided that it’s enough of training for now. Abu Dhabi is a good location and I know the stadium and the courts so well. Normally I would be in Dubai, and it’s good to get a few matches heading into Melbourne,” she added.