London: Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic became the first unseeded player in 60 years to reach the Wimbledon women’s final on Thursday, crushing the title dreams of Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.
World No 42 Vondrousova came through 6-3, 6-3 and will face last year’s runner-up Ons Jabeur for the title on Saturday.
Should Australian Open champion Sabalenka make it through, she will replace Iga Swiatek as new world No 1.
However, she will also cause some potentially awkward optics if she wins the title as she would receive the trophy from Princess Catherine, the wife of the heir to the British throne.
Twelve months ago, Sabalenka and all Belarusian and Russian players were banned from Wimbledon following the invasion of Ukraine. Belarus is a key ally of Moscow.
Left-hander Vondrousova will be playing in her second Grand Slam final after finishing runner-up at the 2019 French Open.
On Thursday, the 24-year-old was rewarded for her attacking approach, breaking serve six times and unleashing 22 winners to Svitolina’s nine.
“I cannot believe it. I am very happy that I made the final. Elina is such a fighter and a great person,” said the Czech.
“I was crazy nervous. I was leading 4-0 in the second set and she fought back.”
Reaching the final comes after a miserable time for the Czech — she underwent a second surgery on her wrist last year, which ruled her out for most of 2022.
“I didn’t play for six months last year and you never know if you can be at that level again,” she said. “I’m so happy to be back out here.”
World No 76 Svitolina, who only returned to the sport from maternity leave in April, dropped serve three times in the opening set.
She managed to retrieve the first to level at 3-3 but the Czech broke again in the seventh and ninth games to edge ahead in the tie.
An error-plagued Svitolina quickly fell 4-0 down in the second set.
However, Vondrousova, who had seen off four seeded players to reach the semi-finals, suddenly suffered mid-set jitters as she handed back the breaks to allow Svitolina to pull to 3-4.
Svitolina then undid all her hard work to be broken again in the eighth game before pushing a forehand long to hand her opponent a place in the final.
Jabeur beats Sabalenka
Jabeur fought back from a set and 4-2 down to defeat Aryna Sabalenka and reach a second successive Wimbledon final on Thursday.
The Tunisian world No 6 came through 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-3 and will face Marketa Vondrousova for the title on Saturday.
It was the third time at the tournament this year that the 28-year-old Jabeur had fought back from dropping the first set.
Saturday's final will be her third at the Slams after losing to Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon and then to Iga Swiatek at the US Open last year.
"I'm very proud of myself because maybe old me would have lost the match today and went back home already but I'm glad that I kept digging deep and finding the strength," she said.
"I'm learning to transform the bad energy into a good one so the anger that I had from the first set I tried to stay focused.
"Some things I have no control over. She can ace any time, she can hit a big serve even if I have a break point and that's frustrating a bit but I'm glad that I'm accepting it and digging deep to go and win this match and hopefully the tournament."
Had Sabalenka gone on to win the title on Saturday, she would have received the trophy from Princess Catherine, the wife of the heir to the British throne, a year after all Belarusian and Russian players were banned from the tournament following the invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus is a key ally of Moscow.
Sabalenka looked on course to comfortably make the final in the early stages on Thursday.
Sabalenka, playing in her fourth successive Grand Slam semi-final and sixth in total, fought off three break points in the first set.
Fastest women's serve
The 25-year-old then recovered from 2/4 down in the tiebreak to clinch the opener after just under an hour on court.
During the set, she unleashed the fastest women's serve at Wimbledon this year with a 121 mph (194.7 km/h) rocket.
Sabalenka, who had defeated Jabeur on her way to the last four at Wimbledon in 2021, broke for a 3-2 lead in the second set when her Tunisian opponent served up her third double fault.
That lead stretched to 4-2 before sixth-ranked Jabeur hit back from the brink to reel off the next four games to level the contest.
Sabalenka's spirit slipped away and she was broken in the sixth game of the decider before Jabeur claimed victory on a fifth match point with a clean ace.
Sabalenka unleashed 39 winners but committed 45 unforced errors as her hopes of adding the Wimbledon title to her Australian Open victory were dashed.