By Shrivathsa Sridhar
PARIS (Reuters) – Ukrainian Elina Svitolina’s felt the love from the French Open crowd that included her husband and local favourite Gael Monfils after returning to the quarter-finals on Sunday and declared that she was the last French player standing in Paris.
French presence in both singles’ draws ended on Thursday as Arthur Rinderknech lost in four sets to Taylor Fritz on the day fifth seed Caroline Garcia was knocked out in the second round.
It was the second time in three years that no French player made it to the third round at their home major, but local fans have found a new hero in Svitolina who beat Russian ninth seed Daria Kasatkina 6-4 7-6(5) to advance.
“Last French player standing,” said Svitolina, who got a taste of what to expect after winning the Strasbourg title after returning to the circuit earlier this year following the birth of her daughter Skai with fellow tennis player Monfils.
“I already knew from Strasbourg that a lot of people supported me. We have been married for a couple of years now. I’ve been with Gael for over five years now. I didn’t expect that it would come like this year.
“But in the end, just thankful to the crowd to be there for me, even though in some matches I was a set down and coming back to win, they were cheering me on and giving me this push and this hope that I can come back and can win.”
Svitolina has been in the Roland Garros quarter-finals three times in the past but said she was playing with the freedom of a teenager in her latest quest to break her Grand Slam duck.
“This is one of the things that I noticed, that right now I don’t have that pressure that I used to have before,” former world number three Svitolina added.
“Of course, personally I put kind of pressure for myself because I want to win a Grand Slam. This is the ultimate goal for me. But definitely not the pressure from outside.
“No one expects that I’m going to come into Roland Garros and make quarter-final at the beginning of the tournament. I don’t think many people would say, ‘she’s gonna do it.’
“That’s why I feel like this really helps me. I feel almost like I’m 17 again coming on the tour fresh. I’m not defending any points. Not here, not next week.”
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Paris, editing by Pritha Sarkar)