Elina Svitolina column: It's impossible to predict a French Open winner

Elina Svitolina BBC Sport columnist

World number nine Elina Svitolina, who has won 13 singles titles on the WTA Tour, will be writing columns for the BBC Sport website during the French Open, which runs from 26 May to 9 June.

The 24-year-old Ukrainian, who was at a career-high ranking of three last year, plays 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza in a blockbuster of a third-round match on Friday.

The two-time Roland Garros quarter-finalist talks about the strength of the women's singles, facing Spanish 19th seed Muguruza and how practising with boyfriend - French world number 17 - Gael Monfils is improving her game.

There are many, many good players in a Grand Slam and I think these days the women's game is at its highest level.

Players like Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki have already gone out, while Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep didn't have it easy.

That shows the depth of the women's game and how strong the draw is.

It doesn't matter if you are playing the person ranked 80th in the world or 20th - they are equally dangerous.

It's impossible to predict how many players could possibly win Roland Garros because there are so many contenders.

But I don't think too much about what is happening in the other parts of the draw.

And when a big name goes out there is not much talk in the locker room about it.

I only think about my part and mostly just the next opponent. If you look too far it can make you a little distracted and unfocused. What comes, comes.

'I need to react quickly to Muguruza'

After beating Venus Williams in the first round I have another tough challenge against Garbine Muguruza - someone who has won the Roland Garros title recently.

I'm not sure how that affects her - whether that brings more pressure on her or helps because she knows she can win here.

I don't know because I have never been in this situation where I have won a Grand Slam and returned as the champion!

I imagine there are plusses and minuses but I try not to think about her situation - I try to think about myself.

Otherwise you have too many thoughts and it is useless to waste energy.

I have a good record against Garbine and have won six of our seven previous matches.

We have only played once on clay - in the 2017 Italian Open semi-finals - and she retired with a neck injury when I was leading 4-1.

But I don't expect her to play any different to any other surface.

Garbine plays very early, she tries to dictate the point. So it is important for me to react really quickly and expect that.

Elina Svitolina
Svitolina has only spent one hour and 13 minutes on court at Roland Garros so far

'Practising with Gael is fun and improves me'

I reached the third round in an unexpected way because my opponent Kateryna Kozlova - who I have known since we were children in Ukraine - had to withdraw from our match with illness.

An opponent pulling out doesn't really affect me mentally. It comes, you have to react and adjust yourself.

So I had three hits on Wednesday instead.

Obviously I practised for my match and then when the match was cancelled I practised with Gael.

We were doing a doubles drill from the baseline where I'm attacking the ball and he's defending - he's obviously an amazing defender - so it was tough for me to make a winner.

He is too fit and too quick and too strong! So that's why for me it is good.

I'm approaching and doing volleys and he is always there. It is good practice for both of us and it's great fun.

Thankfully the loser doesn't have to pay for dinner - but whoever loses gets a hard shot hit at their body!

After that practice I then played a set with my hitting partner later on Wednesday. I played my last match on Sunday so I have to be ready and keep my head focused for the next one.

Playing a set obviously isn't the same as playing in the tournament match but that does help keep me a little in 'match mode'.

In a Grand Slam you have to be fresh and ready and straight into the first point because you have to compete at the highest level straight away.

Elina Svitolina
Svitolina and Monfils hit on the practice courts adjacent to Roland Garros

'Relaxing and romantic dinners are important too'

Not playing because an opponent has pulled out means you definitely have time to be able to mentally relax a little as well.

We went for dinner with friends in the afternoon and then it was a quiet night because Gael played on Thursday.

We watch movies a lot but it is tough here in Paris to go shopping or whatever because Gael, as one of France's biggest tennis stars, is obviously very famous here.

People recognise him and it is very difficult to have a calm walk through the Champs-Elysees, for example.

That means we don't go out much, but on Wednesday we did go to our favourite restaurant near the Champs-Elysees - it is actually where we met!

We love that place. So it is a special place and brings back good memories.

Nowadays I would say I'm more relaxed when I'm on the practice court but still, of course, I'm very focused when I have to step on the tennis court.

It is important to do what makes you feel good on and off the court.

'Playing on Chatrier is always special'

I wouldn't say I have a favourite court in the world but I do love the show courts at Roland Garros - they are very special to me.

I always dreamed of playing at Roland Garros because I think it was the only one tournament they would show in Ukraine!

Whether I'm playing Chatrier, Lenglen or Simonne-Mathieu, it doesn't matter to me - I really enjoy playing in all of them.

I thrive on playing on bigger courts, it gives you extra motivation. All the support you get on these courts helps you get through the tough moments and go again and again.

I've been told there have been a lot of empty seats on Chatrier at times - but I didn't notice that when Gael played there on Tuesday.

It was not quite full, but it was a good crowd and he said afterwards the energy was amazing. It really fired him up.

I think the crowd size depends on the weather as well and also in the early afternoon, because in France lunch is almost like a holy thing!

If a stadium isn't very full I don't think about it too much, if it is a Grand Slam or a big tournament you have to push yourself.

Of course it is much better to play when the crowd is there, but playing on Chatrier is always special.

Court Philippe Chatrier
Svitolina's third-round match against Muguruza is second on Chatrier on Friday, starting about 12:00 BST

Elina Svitolina was speaking to BBC Sport's Jonathan Jurejko at Roland Garros.

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