Elina Svitolina’s storybook run at Wimbledon came to an end on Thursday when she lost her semifinal match against Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in straight sets.
Svitolina, a new mother from Ukraine who has been a symbol of defiance since Russia’s February 2022 invasion — especially during her runs at the French Open and Wimbledon — fell to Vondrousova, 6-3, 6-3, on a single error – filled the afternoon under the roof at Center Court.
Over the course of 10 days, Svitolina, who needed a wild card to enter the tournament, played tennis with a combination of freedom and defiance that thrilled the British crowd, especially in her win over 19th-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the fourth round, when she prevailed in a final set tiebreaker after Azarenka emerged victorious. Two days later, Svitolina defeated Poland’s Iga Swiatek, the world No. 1 and four-time Grand Slam champion, in another tense and emotional three-set victory.
She talks about how the war and being a new mother changed her and her approach to tennis, even improving her because she has a new perspective on the sport.
“I don’t consider difficult situations as a calamity,” he said. “There are worse things in life. I’m just calmer.”
But then she ran into Vondrousova, a talented and tricky left-handed player who may not have anything close to the résumés of Swiatek and Azarenka — or Sofia Kenin or Venus Williams, two of Svitolina’s other victims at this tournament — but she played as if he did.
Vondrousova, who is ranked No. 1 in the world as a junior and reached the French Open final in 2019, is developing a habit of playing spoiler. At the Tokyo Olympics, she eliminated Japan’s Naomi Osaka, the national hero and international star who lit the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony, and went on to win the silver medal.
Against Svitolina, she showed every bit of the skill she has shown in her best matches, displaying a variety of attacks that include rolling forehands, drop shots and a penchant for going to the net to finish points in every chance. Being left-handed also helps. This forces opponents to adjust to different rotations than they normally face and to shift the direction of their attack if they want to get the ball on his backhand.
She had plenty of help from Svitolina, who for the first hour of the match seemed to have lost the ethereal feel for the ball that had characterized her play throughout the tournament. Swiatek spoke about how this version is different from Svitolina, who spent a large part of her maternity leave raising money for war aid in Ukraine.
“He played with more freedom and more guts,” Swiatek said. “Sometimes he just let go of his hand and he played really fast.”
That version of Svitolina only appeared briefly. In the second set, down a set and 4-0, she broke Vondrousova’s serve twice to earn a chance to even the set.
The crowd, eager to help swing the match in her favor, came alive as Svitolina screamed and fist pumped and skipped to her chair for the changeover. But once he got the momentum, he brought it right back.