Ukraine's Elina Svitolina made a winning return to Grand Slam tennis

Paris (AFP) - Elina Svitolina said she wanted to “bring joy” to people in Ukraine after she marked her comeback to Grand Slam tennis with a first-round victory at the French Open on Monday.

The former world number three beat last year’s semi-finalist Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-2 in her first match at a major tournament since the 2022 Australian Open.

Svitolina recently returned to the tour following maternity leave, having previously taken a break from the sport citing health problems and mental exhaustion following Russia’s invasion of her home country Ukraine.

The 28-year-old also won her 17th WTA title in Strasbourg last weekend.

“I want to do it for myself. I have some goals that I want to complete before I retire completely,” she said when asked what motivated her to return to the WTA Tour in April.

“Of course, for my country, as well, to bring these little moments like, for example, winning Strasbourg, starting well here, as well.

“These kind of moments, these little wins… on a level, which is very low, but these moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well – the kids who loved to play tennis before the war and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity.

“These moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina has reached two Grand Slam semi-finals and six quarter-finals, including three times at Roland Garros.

She will face Australian qualifier Storm Hunter in the second round, with a possible rematch of the Strasbourg final against Russian Anna Blinkova up for grabs.

Svitolina’s compatriot Marta Kostyuk was booed by the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd on Sunday for refusing to shake hands with Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka after their match.

Belarus is a key military ally of Russia.

“A lot of rubbish is happening around the situation where we have to focus on what the main point of what is going on, a lot of people, Ukrainian people, need help and need support,” said Svitolina, who donated her Strasbourg prize money to help Ukrainian children.

“We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.”

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba also supported Kostyuk on Monday, writing on social media: “Those who booed need to visit Bucha, where the Russian army came from Belarus and massacred civilians. Or run to a shelter when a Russian jet takes off in Belarus. Then, boo.”

Svitolina’s fellow Ukrainians Anhelina Kalinina, Lesia Tsurenko and Kateryna Baindl all start their French Open campaigns on Tuesday.