London: Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina stunned world number one Iga Swiatek to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals on Tuesday, just three months after returning from maternity leave.
The world No 76 came through 7-5, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 despite being a break down in both of the first two sets against the reigning US Open and French Open champion.
Svitolina, also a semi-finalist in 2019, will take on Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic for a place in Saturday’s championship match.
Svitolina has reached the last four by seeing off a quartet of Grand Slam title winners in Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin, Victoria Azarenka, in a stormy last-16 clash, and now Swiatek.
She said she intended to “enjoy the moment and have a [beverage]”.
“In my head, I don’t know what’s happening. It’s an unbelievable moment.
“If you had told me before the tournament I would get to the semi-finals, I’d say you were crazy.”
Svitolina, playing on a wild card, hailed Swiatek for her unwavering support of Ukraine following the Russian invasion of the country.
The Polish star organised a benefit exhibition match last year to raise funds for humanitarian causes in Ukraine. A heavily pregnant Svitolina acted as chair umpire.
“Iga is a great champion and an unbelievable person,” said Svitolina.
“She was one of the first to help Ukraine people. It’s not easy to play against someone with whom you share great memories.”
Swiatek broke in the first game of the match but the resolute Svitolina hit back to level in the fourth game.
Again the Pole nipped ahead with another break and held for 4-2.
However, Swiatek could not serve it out and a double fault allowed Svitolina to level at 5-5.
At 5-6 down, Swiatek sat courtside in the changeover, scribbling into a notepad but whatever self-help tips she penned, they did not work.
She was broken for the third time as Svitolina claimed the set when Swiatek pushed a backhand volley wide.
The Centre Court action was paused as the roof closed on the rain, a welcome respite for the top seed, who had shipped four consecutive games.
That became five when Svitolina served a love game in the second set opener.
41 unforced errors
Swiatek grabbed the first break of the set in the third game before the 28-year-old Svitolina cancelled it out for 3-3.
In a rollercoaster conclusion, the top seed survived trailing 1/4 in the tiebreaker to level the quarter-final and set-up the decider.
Svitolina gathered herself from letting that set slip away to race to a double break and a 5-1 lead in the decider.
Victory was hers when Swiatek netted a return, the last of the Pole’s 41 unforced errors.
Vondrousova defeats Pegula
Unseeded Marketa Vondrousova said she had a pep talk from her husband during a rain break before roaring back to beat Jessica Pegula and reach her first Wimbledon semi-final on Tuesday.
The Czech player, ranked 42nd in the world, clawed her way back from 4-1 down in the deciding set to win 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
The former French Open finalist was trailing 3-1 in the decider when the rain arrived and forced the closure of the roof on Court No. 1.
Fourth seed Pegula held serve comfortably to make it 4-1 when play resumed but Vondrousova then took charge, winning five games in a row to seal victory.
The 24-year-old revealed she had spoken to her husband Stepan Simek by phone from the locker room.
“He just said, ‘Try to fight, you are playing good, you are playing a great match’,” she said.
“Yeah, that was it. I mean, I think the break helped actually. It was good.”
She was asked whether she would consider getting a tattoo to add to her collection if she goes further at the All England Club.
“We’ll see,” she said. “I always loved it here, but I didn’t do so good. My best result was second round. Now I just get better.
“These two weeks are incredible. I just came here and I just said to myself, ‘Just stay open-minded, just try to play your game and everything’.
“Now this is happening, so it’s a crazy thing. Also today was a crazy match. I’m just a bit in shock.”
After beating seeded players in the past four rounds, Vondrousova will now face Ukrainian wild card Elina Svitolina for a place in Saturday’s final.
“It’s incredible what she has done,” she said of her opponent in the last four, who only returned from maternity leave in April.
“She received a wild card and she’s in the semis. It’s incredible. I feel like it’s such a short time after a baby. She’s doing amazing things.”
Earlier, Pegula was quickly out of the blocks, breaking at her first opportunity but that proved a false dawn as she lost three service games in the first set, landing just 41 per cent of her first serves.
The American, 29, found more rhythm on her serve in the second set and cut her error count, surging into a 4-1 lead and sealing the set with her second break.
Pegula was in total charge when she broke again in the fourth game of the decider to lead 3-1 before the match was suspended but she won just one more game.
Vondrousova finished with seven aces, compared with zero for Pegula, hitting 24 winners against 35 unforced errors.
The result was bitterly disappointing for Pegula, who has still never progressed beyond the quarter-final at a major.