Svitolina looks to continue inspired run

WIMBLEDON, England – Just nine months after giving birth to daughter Skai, Elina Svitolina finds herself in Thursday’s semifinals. And to do so, the Ukrainian wild card beat world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the final round.

“Yeah, I really don’t know what’s going on in my head right now,” Svitolina said in her on-court interview, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

Later, when asked if she dared to believe she could win the title at the All England Club, Svitolina laughed again.

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“You’re crazy?” she said. “Well, I didn’t think much of it until you told me. I know there are a few games left to get that trophy. But I don’t want to think too much about this, because you have to break everything down into small pieces. Tomorrow I will train, work on a few tactical things for my upcoming match, and then play that match.”

Yes, it’s a lot to take in. Count Skai as one of the very few who remain unimpressed. She is at home in Monte Carlo with her two grandmothers and father Gael Monfils, the French tennis star.

Wednesday’s results

“I was FaceTiming with her right after the match actually,” Svitolina said. “She was really distracted with her ice cream, so I wasn’t a priority there. She’s still at this age where she doesn’t care if I win or if I lose.”

On Thursday, Svitolina will look to continue her inspirational run when she takes on unseeded Marketa Vondrousova, while No.2 Aryna Sabalenka faces last year’s runner-up Ons Jabeur.

Here’s a breakdown of the two matchups that will deliver the Wimbledon finalists:

Marketa Vondrousova vs. Elina Svitolina

The top four seeds all reached the quarterfinals and were favored to reach the semifinals. Vondrousova is ranked No. 42 among Hologic WTA Tour players, while Svitolina is No. 76. So how did we end up with two unseeded players in this semi?

In short, some fantastic tennis. Vondrousova upset No.4 seed Jessica Pegula after trailing 4-1 in the third set – and Pegula was a point down at 5-1. She is only the third player in the Open Era to reach the women’s finals by defeating four seeded players: No.12 Veronika Kudermetova, No.20 Donna Vekic, No.32 Marie Bouzkova and Pegula. The 24-year-old from the Czech Republic is already a Grand Slam finalist, finishing runner-up to Ashleigh Barty at the 2019 French Open.

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“She’s very tricky,” Pegula said. “She doesn’t give you much rhythm. Clearly, the left is profiting. Her composure is very much the same all the time. You don’t really know if she’s bothered or turned on or negative. Yeah, that’s kind of her style.”

Svitolina defeated three former Grand Slam champions – Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin and Swiatek – to reach the third major semi-final of her career. She is playing like it was 2019, the last time she reached back-to-back major quarterfinals, at Wimbledon and the US Open. Svitolina is the first wild card to reach the women’s quarter of a Grand Slam tournament since Sabine Lisicki reached the semifinals in 2011.

Svitolina leads the head-to-head series, 3-2, but Vondrousova won the last two meetings – in the quarter-finals at Rome 2020 and in the semi-finals at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, both in straight sets. Vondrousova then won the silver medal and Svitolina the bronze.

Both players have demonstrated a remarkable ability to play well in large spaces. Svitolina first rose to a career high of No. 3 nearly six years ago, and she has compiled a winning record (7-6) against No. 1 players.

Immediately after beating Pegula, Vondrousova said she couldn’t believe it.

“She’s a great player,” Vondrousova said. “I mean, I think everything just kept going, and yeah, I just couldn’t hold back the tears.”

During a rain delay, Vondrousova calmed herself by chatting with her husband, Stepan Simek, on the phone. He is at home in Prague. Like Svitolina, she is happy for him to stay there.

“I think he won’t make it to the semifinals,” Vondrousova said. “We’ll see what happens. He has to work. He has to take care of our cat.”

No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No.2 Aryna Sabalenka No.6 Ons Jabeur

There’s an irresistible force versus an immovable object feel to this one.

No one has been better in recent Slams than Sabalenka; no one has been better on grass than Jabeur.

Among WTA Tour players, Jabeur has the most wins on grass over the past three years. She increased that number to 27 on Wednesday with a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 3 seed and defending champion Elena Rybakina. The 28-year-old Tunisia won eight of the last nine matches.

It was a sweet result for Jabeur because she was beaten by Rybakina in the final a year ago. It was a heartbreaking loss that was covered in depth in Season 1 of “Break Point.”

Now, with a win over Sabalenka, Jabeur would be the first woman to reach back-to-back Wimbledon finals since Serena Williams in 2019.

“I think last year maybe wasn’t ready to play these kinds of games,” Jabeur said. “I don’t regret last year. It happened for a reason. I always say that. I learned a lot from the finals last year. Definitely very proud of myself for the improvement I made mentally, physically and with the tennis racket.”

Sabalenka, meanwhile, defeated No. 25 Madison Keys 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals and won the last four matches. Sabalenka has won three of four matches against Jabeur, including the last three, in 2021 in Abu Dhabi, the 2021 Wimbledon quarterfinals and the 2022 WTA Finals in Fort Worth.

“Actually, we practiced here before Wimbledon,” Sabalenka told reporters. “I felt she would do well here because she played incredible tennis on the practice court. I know it’s different in practice than in a match. She was able to bring that level in matches. It’s not like that , that I had not expected it.

“She’s a great player. We’ve always had tough matches against each other, very close matches.”

Jabeur’s diverse game seems so much more fluid and fluid on grass. Her last three wins here have come over Grand Slam champions (Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Rybakina) and Sabalenka would be the fourth. The last three are especially big hitters.

“I think I showed myself that I can stand up to these [powerful] players,” Jabeur said. “It’s a good testament for me to start the game and be confident and go 100 percent. Honestly, I have nothing to lose.”

Sabalenka is the only woman to reach at least the semifinals of the past four Grand Slams. The reigning Australian Open champion has won 17 of 18 matches at this year’s majors, matching Williams’ feat in 2015. If he beats Jabeur to reach his second major final of the season, Sabalenka will overtake Swiatek as the new world no. .1 after Wimbledon.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the world No.2.

“She has really good contact,” Sabalenka said of Jabeur. “Especially on the grass court, all her slices, drop shots work really well here on the grass court. I feel that mentally she is really strong. She is making history. I think that is the biggest motivation for her.

“I think her difficult game is really, really challenging to play against.”

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