Elina Svitolina believes the first week culling of Roland Garros seeds is being caused by the tournament’s funereal atmosphere.
Only a maximum of 1,000 spectators a day are allowed on the tournament site due to coronavirus restrictions.
Over the two-week duration, that would mean a total of just 15,000 compared to 500,000 fans who crammed the 2019 event.
“Something is missing. I really love to play in front of many people, big stadiums,” said third seed Svitolina after reaching the last 16 on Friday with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova.
“They really push you to play better, to compete better. That’s why I think now these days some players can struggle.”
Only 13 out of 32 women’s seeds managed to reach the third round in Paris.
As well as the strict health protocols, the atmosphere in the tournament has not been helped by the chilly and damp autumn conditions in the French capital.
On Sunday, the opening day, it was just 10 degrees (50F), a dramatic contrast to the early summer conditions usually associated with the French Open when played in its traditional May-June slot.
“Players can have a really good set and then go away maybe mentally,” added Svitolina. “So you have to expect this can happen.
“For example, if you look in my second round I lost the second set like in 10 minutes!” she jokingly recalled of a ‘bagel’ 0-6 set suffered at the hands of Mexico’s Renata Zarazua.
Ukrainian star Svitolina has dropped serve 12 times in her first three matches.
However, the two-time Paris quarter-finalist admitted that players have to keep their on-court struggles in perspective.
“I saw one of the press conferences that Rafael Nadal gave and he was very smart, very cool and said the world now is sad,” she added.
Svitolina, 26, arrived at Roland Garros on the back of her 15th career title, on clay in Strasbourg.
Next up for a place in the quarter-finals will be either home hope Caroline Garcia or 16th seed Elise Mertens of Belgium.
“When I was I think maybe 18 or 19, that’s when I played my first quarter-final. It was a really stressful experience,” she recalled of her 2015 last-eight defeat to Ana Ivanovic.
“And the second one against Simona (Halep in 2017) I had plenty of chances to close that match in two sets, and in the end, I lost the match. Really was tough for me mentally but really gave me this push to overcome that and become even stronger.”
She was as good as her word, getting closer to a Slam final all the time by reaching the semi-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2019 – the first woman from Ukraine to achieve the feat.
“I made two semi-finals last year, so I try to really not focus about winning.
“For sure it’s in the back of my mind, and everyone wants to win the title, but you have to work really hard for it, you have to look for your chances and work really hard. It’s only hard work that can bring you there.”