London: Former world No.3 Elina Svitolina made a strong comeback after maternity leave at Wimbledon, stunning world No.1 Iga Swiatek in a full-set thriller on Tuesday to move into her third career Grand Slam semifinal.
The wild-card Ukrainian battled to claim her fourth win over a major champion this fortnight with the two-hour and 50-minute victory ending 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-2, after having defeated Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin and Victoria Azarenka in the previous rounds.
“It means the world to me. I didn’t really expect that I would be in the semifinal,” Svitolina said afterward. “I want to continue going this way. Have in front of me a big challenge. But I’m really proud of the way that I’ve been playing against tough opponents, Grand Slam champions, the players who know how to win, how to play pressure moments.”
It was also Svitolina’s seventh career win against a current world No.1, the first since she beat the then-top-ranked Simona Halep in the 2018 Italian Open final.
The 2019 semifinalist got off to a bad start, conceding a break in her opening service game with a double fault, but then it was Swiatek whose game unravelled in dramatic fashion while serving for the first set at 5-4. She sent three successive forehands long and handed over the break with a double fault before another four forehand errors gave Svitolina a straightforward hold.
The Centre Court roof was closed at the end of the set as rain clouds gathered again above the All England Club in the latest weather disruption to hit the championships this week. That delay didn’t interrupt Svitolina’s form as she immediately held to love.
Four-time Grand Slam winner Swiatek restored in the second set, breaking early and playing more consistently in the tiebreak, during which she came from 4-1 down to overturn the tide 7-5 to force a third set.
But Svitolina rebounded quickly in the decider, holding at deuce for 1-1 to slow down Swiatek’s momentum and then never face a break point in the final set.
“Lots of good rallies we had. Lots of good games. Tough situations. Tough moments,” Svitolina said. “The crowd was great today. Really enjoyed the match. Even though I was really disappointed with the second set, that I couldn’t win in two, but Iga played unbelievable. All credits to her to winning that second set.
“But then I tried to bounce back, tried to go again. Yeah, just found myself winning the match in the end.”
Next up for Svitolina in the semifinals is unseeded Marketa Vondrousova, who also came with an unexpected win by upsetting American fourth seed Jessica Pegula 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 to reach her second Grand Slam last four.
The 2019 French Open runner-up had never made it past the second round at Wimbledon but is enjoying a dream run this year.
Pegula, playing in her first Wimbledon quarterfinals, led 3-1 in the third set when the contest was halted to allow the roof on Court One to be closed.
When play resumed, world No.42 Vondrousova fought back from 4-1 down by winning five games in a row to claim the rollercoaster victory.
“[Closing the roof] helped a lot actually,” the Czech said. “I don’t know what happened. It’s amazing. My best result here was the second round. I just got better. I’m just loving grass now.”
The 24-year-old was a brilliant rising star when she surged to the Roland-Garros final four years ago before falling to Ashleigh Barty, but this was her first quarterfinal since that run.
However, for Pegula, this was her sixth Grand Slam quarterfinal defeat in the past two years.