Going bananas with Elina Svitolina

Timothy Wee Timothy Wee

We monkeyed about with the world number four women’s tennis player at the Singapore Zoo ahead of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore.

What a breakthrough year for tennis player Elina Svitolina!

After her momentous victory over Serena Williams at the Rio Olympics, the 23-year-old has had quite the record – dishing out defeats to top calibre seeded players such as Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki.

It is little wonder then to learn that the backhand specialist is actually the first Ukrainian to take part in the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore.

Arriving early on Singapore sunny shores, Svitolina seems to be taking a breather and soaking up our local sights and sounds. She was already spotted taking a dip in the Marina Bay Sands’ Infinity Pool, before striking a pose with the Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles statue at the Boat Quay area.

Iconic pool pic #singapore

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She seems to be enjoying Singapore so much that she couldn’t resist buying a stunning lace dress by local boutique Frockalicious!

So ahead of the tennis this weekend, we join Svitolina, the self-confessed animal lover, with her little hairy friends for some monkey business at the Singapore Zoo.

On her spirit animal…

My spirit animal is the dog, I think. It is according to the Chinese calendar. I’ve always been a dog lover – had a couple of dogs when I was young. Currently, I have a dog – it is a family dog now. [laughs]

I brought it for myself, but unfortunately I couldn’t take care of it because I am travelling a lot. But I do go back to my hometown to see it and am very sad to leave him behind. His name is Kobe; named after Kobe Bryant. He is a tiny dog, but he has a big name. [laughs]

On her sporting idols…

I am a Kobe Bryant fan. He motivates me a lot with his interviews and his life story – what he went through and his career. There are a lot of things that I took for myself.

On the impact of her victory over Serena Williams…

Yeah that match, I played amazing tennis – it was one of the best matches in that season. For me, it was something good – showing that I am moving in the right direction, but I need more consistency to play that kind of level all the time. So, I’ve been working on it and this year, for sure, it was much better.

On Serena Williams’s absence…

Of course, Serena is like the main face of women’s tennis. But you know, she is having a family now and I think everyone is very happy to see her happy off the court. It’s part of life, so it would happen at some point. Hopefully, she will come back so we can see her playing.

You know, it’s amazing for women’s tennis to have this kind of athletes come back to the game after a period of absence. It’s part of being competitive and just being a part of this (women’s tennis), I am really happy that I played against Serena. Maybe in the future, I can play a few matches against Maria (Sharapova). For me, it’s very exciting so I am very happy that I am in a time where I can play against these great players.

On her 2017 breakthrough season…

I’ve been working really hard ever since I’m young. I’ve changed a lot of coaches and for me, I took something from each partnership. Everything just came together and I’m more matured at my game.

And I think working hard off-season really paid off and for me it was something really important to do.

On significant moments in 2017…

I don’t think there was any turning point. It was just lots of matches that were very close, playing advanced top players.

Last year, I played a lot of good matches – I lost some, I won some. So I was always trying to learn something new from each match. And for me, it was very important to take good things even if I lost the match.

On local sights and Singapore…

So I did a little tour this morning and I’ve seen the Singapore Zoo, which is very impressive. You know, I didn’t really expect that I could see this (the zoo) and meet orang-utans. It is something very very special.

And Singapore is a very special city – so many things that you can do. And of course, there are such big events! With the best women’s tennis, it also motivates you.

On the iconic Merlion…

Yes I actually saw it this morning and it is impressive, but I want to learn more about the history of Singapore.

When I come to a new country, I’ll try to learn as much as I can. So for sure, I will take time, maybe after the tournament, to explore more. Maybe the Night Safari as well? [laughs]

On trying local food…

Most of the time, we’ve been eating only near the hotel – there are so many restaurants. I don’t know; if there are any suggestions, you can tell me. But, I will try chicken rice.

On her goals for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore…

I won lots of matches, I won lots of tournaments, so it has been an amazing year, but I still have Singapore. The goal is to win the tournament, like always with all other tournaments.

But it is going to be extremely tough because there are the best women (in tennis) in the world. So I am looking forward to my first match and I try to take one match at a time and really be focused on what I have to do on court.

On keeping her cool in big matches…

It has always been different; all my five finals this year, I always did something different.

I don’t know, it’s very tough to say because after the finals, there are so many emotions that you really forget what just happened and even hours before.

On what it takes to perform at such a high level in tennis…

I don’t know, I don’t really think about statistics – they are just boring by itself. And I try to really focus when I am in the finals.

It’s really important just to take it as another match, don’t think about it, because you’re gonna have pressure anyway – it is the final last match to win and there’s the big tournament atmosphere. For me, it is very important for me to stay in the moment and not think about what can happen. So I always try to think about something else and take my mind off the pressure.

On developing her mental strength…

I was working with a coach about it and he (Gabriel Urpi) helps me a lot – he understands the game because he was playing the game. So we have a lot of common feelings and in the way we see the game.

So it gave me a different outlook on my game, so I could improve the mental part as much as my game on the court. Everything clicked together.

On her most marked improvement…

I think everything little bit – my serve, my game, my mental strength. I am looking forward to this off-season to improve even more and to be more consistent. Yeah, there are still lots of room for improvement.

On personal improvement…

There is no particular thing. To be the best player, you need to do everything. So it’s important to improve the little things which would make a big difference.