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 Ukrainian, seeded nine, is hoping for a successful run in Paris, having become known as one of the WTA’s leading players on the clay, twice reaching the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.

The 24-year-old, who was a career high ranking of three last year, has struggled with a knee injury in recent months, meaning she has not won on clay this year.

In her first column, she talks about how she felt being drawn against Venus Williams in the first round, how the injury has affected her form and her much-publicised romance with fellow tennis player Gael Monfils.

I grew up on clay courts in Ukraine and playing on the surface is almost like playing at home – so that’s why Roland Garros is my favourite Grand Slam.

But in the first round I’ve probably got one of the toughest draws I could have got – Venus Williams.

I also started my title defence at the Italian Open in Rome against Victoria Azarenka so it is another tough draw.

I don’t know why I got this punishment!

Elina Svitolina in Rome

I was actually talking recently with Gael about drawing Venus, about drawing someone who is a great champion, a legend of our sport and has won seven Grand Slams.

Gael told me it would be quite some draw for someone – and now I’m playing her. It’s so funny!

She’s a role model for many athletes and girls in general, both her and Serena, what they do for our sport is great. They are still competing, Serena coming back after having a baby, they are still top players.

You need to have lots of willpower to keep coming back and having such a great and long career.

I have played her a couple of times, and Serena as well, and as I know a little more about this experience, I’m more relaxed and focusing on what I’m doing and what is in my power.

You have to be ready mentally and physically when you’re playing one of the world’s greats.

‘Every match will be like a final after injury problems’

Elina Svitolina and Venus Williams

We had some thoughts that I might not be ready for Roland Garros because of my knee injury, but I was 99% sure I was going to play because it is my favourite Slam.

I would be really disappointed if I didn’t make it so we did everything in our power to really focus on recovery and being at least 80% ready.

But that means I don’t have any expectations for this tournament.

What I have been through has not been easy because it is the first time I’ve had such a setback like this and struggling with a pain like that.

I have to take it one match at a time. Every match that I get to play here will be like a final for me.

When I got injured it was in the semi-finals of the Dubai Tennis Championships against Belinda Bencic where I led 5-3 in the deciding set before losing 6-2 3-6 7-6 (7-3).

I started feeling worse and worse towards the end of the match and then I had some scans in Indian Wells. They told me the patella was a little bit damaged.

I needed to play Indian Wells and I was in good form, so reaching the semi-final there too was a good result. Then my body said ‘no’.

I couldn’t really play in Miami which was disappointing because I thought I had good form and then I took six weeks off.

Slowly I tried to practise on the clay but clay is harder to move so you have to be really physical and trust your body. That’s what we’ve been working on and trying to prepare.

When I decided to play in Madrid and Rome – where I lost both matches – I said to myself I have to think about what I do on court, not about injury.

Blocking out injury can be very difficult but it is about experience, being strong mentally and not letting negative thoughts take over.

‘Hiding our relationship would be waste of energy’

Elina Svitolina and Gael Monfils

Gael and I have been very public about our relationship and that includes having a joint Instagram account.

It’s tough to escape when you’re both famous tennis players, it is tough to be really private and I think it is a waste of energy hiding things.

Gael is a very open person and for me it is natural too. If fans want to see something then we will show them and try to share.

It is important not to close yourself and make it uncomfortable.

Every week we are under the camera, we can be seen on television supporting each other, so I didn’t see the point of hiding on purpose.

I’m sure there are some people, some ‘haters’, who are saying I’ve been playing worse since I’ve been dating Gael, but for me I don’t think it matters.

I feel happy at the moment and for me it is important. When I’m on court I’m thinking only about what I have to do and when I’m off court I’m enjoying my life and my time for him.

This is the first time I’m playing in front of a French crowd with Gael as my boyfriend so I’ll have to see if I get more support because of him. Although I know I won’t get as much support as he does, obviously.

Star-studded gala provides inspiration for Ukraine work

Elina Svitolina

On Thursday I went to Cannes to attend a gala for AmfAR – it is a charity which fights Aids and they hold a famous annual fundraising event.

It was amazing to see so many stars – Eva Longoria, Milla Jovovich, Antonio Banderas and Tom Jones were all there – coming together to help fight what is important in the world.

I have a foundation in Ukraine and have been looking to hold a similar type of event which would raise money for new tennis facilities to be used by Ukrainian kids.

That would mean building new courts all over Ukraine, which is important because some cities need them in schools.

We are working really hard to find resources, it is not easy, but we are slowly trying to get a good team to reach our goal.

I also have connections now with tennis academies across Europe so another goal is to see if we can get kids, who need help with practice or a training base, into places in France or England or Germany.

So it was important to attend the event in Cannes to see how it was organised, talk to people how they run the event, and it was a great experience.

Elina Svitolina was speaking to BBC Sport’s Jonathan Jurejko.