LONDON (Reuters) – Ukrainian wild card Elina Svitolina, having dismissed four Grand Slam champions during her fairytale run to the Wimbledon semi-finals following her maternity break, may believe the stars are finally aligning in her quest for a maiden Grand Slam title.

The 28-year-old can reach a first major final by beating the resurgent Czech Marketa Vondrousova on Thursday and the former world number three said a fresh approach to her career after the war in Ukraine and becoming a mother in October had helped.

“I say to myself I think it’s less years that I have in front than behind me,” said Svitolina, who downed major winners Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin and Victoria Azarenka before toppling another in world number one Iga Swiatek.

“I have to go for it. I don’t have time to lose anymore. I don’t know how many years I will be playing more… You practice for these big moments.

Svitolina, who returned to the tour in April after giving birth to daughter Skai last October, said Russia’s invasion of her country, which Moscow calls a ‘special military operation’, had changed her.

“War made me stronger and also mentally stronger. I don’t take difficult situations as like a disaster. There are worse things in life. I’m more calm,” she added.

“I think also, because I just started to play again, I have different pressures. I want to win. I have this huge motivation to come back to the top. But I think having a child, and war, made me a different person.”

Vondrousova has endured ordinary outings at the Grand Slams following her run to the 2019 French Open title clash, where she was beaten by Ash Barty, with the Olympic silver medallist’s career derailed due to wrist injuries.

But “no rain no flowers” says a tattoo on her heavily inked arm and the 24-year-old Czech is once again showing glimpses of her best form and battling qualities that could make her clash with Svitolina an intriguing one.

“We’ve played a few times, so we know each other,” said Vondrousova, who has taken out four seeds in the tournament.

“She’s a wild card, but she’s playing like a top 10 player. It’s no difference for me. I think in the semi-finals you have to be ready for everything. It’s all in.”


In the other semi-final, Belarusian second seed Aryna Sabalenka will meet Ons Jabeur in a contest that will pit the Australian Open champion’s raw power against the Tunisian’s precision and guile.

Sabalenka is in the midst of a stellar season, having made the Roland Garros semi-finals following her major breakthrough at Melbourne Park and will look to take a big step towards a second Grand Slam crown of the year.

But in Jabeur, she meets an equally determined rival who knocked out holder Elena Rybakina in their quarter-final meeting to gain a measure of revenge after losing to the Moscow-born Kazakh in last year’s title clash.

“She has really good touch. Especially on grasscourts, all her slices, drop shots work really well here,” said Sabalenka, who booked her spot in the last four by powering past American Madison Keys.

Victory for Sabalenka will ensure she takes the world number one ranking from Swiatek while Jabeur can remain in the hunt for a maiden major that will make her the first African woman and Arabic player to win a Grand Slam singles crown.

“I think that is the biggest motivation for her. That’s why she’s doing well this season and especially here at Wimbledon,” Sabalenka added.

Jabeur, who lost to Sabalenka in the quarter-finals in 2021, said she had to stay focused for what will be a different test.

“Aryna is more emotional than Elena, so maybe it could be a good or bad thing, I’m not sure. Let’s see,” Jabeur said. “I’m going to prepare and take my revenge from two years ago.”

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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