Elina Svitolina’s storybook run at Wimbledon came to an agonizing end on Thursday as she lost her semifinal match against Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in straight sets.
Svitolina, a new mother from Ukraine who has become a symbol of defiance since the Russian invasion in February 2022 — especially so during her runs at the French Open and Wimbledon — fell to Vondrousova, 6-3, 6-3, on an error-filled afternoon under the roof on Centre Court.
For 10 days, Svitolina, who needed a wild card to get into the tournament, had played tennis with a combination of freedom and defiance that thrilled the British crowd, especially during her win over 19th-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the fourth round, when she prevailed in a final set tiebreaker after Azarenka appeared to have the match all but won. Two days later, Svitolina toppled Iga Swiatek of Poland, the world No. 1 and four-time Grand Slam champion, in another tense and emotional three-set triumph.
She spoke of how the war and being a new mother had changed her and her approach to tennis, even making her better because she had a new perspective on the sport.
“I don’t take difficult situations as like a disaster,” she said. “There are worse things in life. I’m just more calmer.”
But then she ran into Vondrousova, a talented and tricky left-handed player who may not have anything close to the résumé of Swiatek and Azarenka — or Sofia Kenin or Venus Williams, two of Svitolina’s other victims at this tournament — but she played as if she did.
Vondrousova, who was a ranked No. 1 in the world as a junior and reached the French Open final in 2019, is developing a habit of playing the spoiler. At the Tokyo Olympics, she eliminated Naomi Osaka of Japan, the national hero and international star who had lit the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony, and went on to win a silver medal.
Against Svitolina, she displayed every bit of the skill that she has shown in her best matches, showing off a varied attack that includes rolling forehands, drop shots and a penchant for going to the net to finish points at every opportunity. Being left-handed also helps. It forces opponents to adjust to different spins than they normally face and to switch the direction of their attack if they want to get the ball onto her backhand.
She had plenty of help from Svitolina, who during the first hour of the match looked as if she had lost the ethereal feel for the ball that had characterized her play throughout so much of the tournament. Swiatek has spoken about how this version of Svitolina, who spent so much of her maternity leave raising money for war relief in Ukraine, was so different.
“She played with more freedom and more guts,” Swiatek said. “Sometimes she really just let go of her hand and she played really, really fast.”
That version of Svitolina appeared only briefly. In the second set, down a set and 4-0, she broke Vondrousova’s serve twice to gain a chance to even the set.
The crowd, which had wanted so badly to help swing the match in her favor, came alive as Svitolina let out a scream and a fist pump and skipped toward her chair for the changeover. But as soon as she seized the momentum, she gave it right back.