Elina Svitolina’s dream Wimbledon run came to an abrupt halt when unseeded Marketa Vondrousova stopped the Ukrainian in the semi-final of The Championship on Thursday, 6-3 6-3.
It's crazy to be in the final. It was a very tough game. I'm just very happy that I stayed focused in the end. It was hard to imagine performance like this on grass, because I haven't played much on this surface... I feel like a different player and person than when I played my first Grand Slam final. This helps me in difficult moments. I was still too young at the time. Marketa Vondrousova
It all proved a step too far for Svitolina, who only returned to the tour in April after giving birth to her daughter in October, and has been championing the Ukrainian cause in the face of Russia’s invasion of her homeland.
Later, she tearfully admitted that sometimes the pressure ‘gets, maybe, too much’, although representing war-torn Ukraine is a major motivating factor for her.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, a lot of tension,” Svitolina said. “I try to balance it as much as I can, but, yeah, sometimes, it gets maybe too much. But I don’t want to take it as an excuse that I lost today.”
Her conqueror, Vondrousova, may be unseeded here, and was unproven on grass until now, but the left-handed Czech is not without experience, having reached the final of the French Open in 2019, when she lost to Ash Barty, and winning a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
She stormed into her first Wimbledon final after cruising past a lacklustre Svitolina in straight sets in just over an hour, and, in doing so, she has become the lowest-ranked woman to reach a Wimbledon final since the ranking system was introduced, as well as the first unseeded player to do so since 1963.
Vondrousova faced little difficulty throughout the encounter, as Svitolina struggled to generate any rhythm as she produced a costly 24 unforced errors in what proved to be a somewhat anti-climactic match compared to the series of thrilling encounters that had occurred earlier in the draw.
“I can’t believe it,” Vondrousova said. “I’m just very happy that I made the final. She is such a fighter and she is such a great person.”
The Czech got off to the perfect start by breaking 5 games into the match, moving the ball from side to side and drawing unforced errors from her opponent until she eventually broke to love by hitting a blistering forehand down the line.
Svitolina managed to retrieve that break, but her serve was off kilter, and the former World No 3 found herself losing 7 points in a row behind it, which offered Vondrousova the chance to ease out to a 5-3 lead.
The Centre Court crowd tried to lift the Ukrainian, who looked tense and tired, with one fan shouting ‘We love you Elena’, but it did little to to change the match momentum as Vondoursova took the opener after just 34 minutes of play.
“Even today when I was down, I got a lot of support,” Svitolina said later. “I’m really thankful for the crowd to support me, be there for me, and all Ukrainian people as well.
“They support us quite a lot in different kinds of ways, for a lot of Ukrainians who arrived here when the war started. Really thankful for all the people to support us in different levels.”
Vondrousova raced out to a 4-0 lead in the second, and was in a position to serve for 5-0, but a last-ditch stand by Svitolina, now seemingly resigned to her fate, struck out with greater pace and resolve to break back twice in a row, reviving her chances and prompting by a huge roar from the crowd.
The come-back, though, was short-lived as Svitolina’s miscues returned to dog her, alongside an uncharacteristic uncertainty, and Vondrousova broke once more on her way to glory.
The World No 42 took an hour and 15 minutes to beat the Ukrainian with an impressive display.
“I was crazy nervous, and nervous during the whole match,” the Czech admitted on court. “I was leading 4-0 in the second set, and then she broke me. I had to just stay focused and play my game.
“I didn’t play for 6 months last year [due to injury], and you never know if you’re going to be playing at that level again. I am so grateful to be back here, and play at this level again.”
Vondrousova will take on Tunisian One Jabeur, the 6th seed, who upset World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka, 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-3, in the other semi-final, which followed on the Centre Court.
Jabeur, who was beaten in last year’s final, looked destined to suffer more heartbreak when she lost the opening set, but her delicate stroke play and clever angles eventually subdued the relentless power of the Belarusian, although it took the Tunisian 5 match points to get over the line with an ace.
Having shattered Svitolina’s dreams, Vondrousova now hopes to end Jabeur’s as she stands one win away from completing her own phenomenal come-back story after 2 wrist surgeries following her runner-up finish at Roland Garros in 2019.
Reaching her second Grand Slam final comes after a miserable period for the Czech, who underwent a second wrist operation last year and missed a huge chunk of the 2022 season.
“It’s crazy this is happening,” the 24-year old said in her post-match press conference. “It’s crazy to be in the final.
“It was a very tough game. I’m just very happy that I stayed focused in the end. It was hard to imagine performance like this on grass, because I haven’t played much on this surface.
“After the surgery, I didn’t play for almost six months, and it was a really tough time. I’m really happy to be able to play without pain.
“I feel like a different player and person than when I played my first Grand Slam final. This helps me in difficult moments. I was still too young at the time.”
On facing Jabeur in the final, Vondrousova said: “We are similar in some ways. We both play the drop-shot and the slice very well.
“Last year she reached the final at Wimbledon and the US Open, so she’s used to it. We are talking about a Grand Slam final: it will be a tough match regardless of the tennis player I will face.”