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Marketa Vondrousova Ends Elina Svitolina’s Wimbledon Run

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 Ukrainian 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 had 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 didn’t 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.

“I wouldn’t say I was too nervous,” a somber and teary Svitolina said after the match. “I should have found a better way to deal with Marketa’s game style.”

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 wristy, 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 a different set of spins than they normally face and to switch the direction of their attack if they want to get the ball onto her backhand.

She also 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 had said that Svitolina, who spent much of her maternity leave raising money for war relief in Ukraine, had beaten her by playing a freer, gutsier style of tennis than she had seen Svitolina play before.

“Sometimes she really just let go of her hand and she played really, really fast,” Swiatek had said.

That version of Svitolina appeared only briefly during the semifinal. 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. The errors returned and her strokes never seemed to find either the velocity or the precision of her earlier match. When her last ball sailed long, her chin fell to her chest and she walked to the net to give Vondrousova a congratulatory hug.

“I rushed a little bit,” Svitolina said. “I tried to fight back and give my best. “It didn’t happen.”

“She is such a fighter and such a great person,” Vondrousova said of Svitolina. “I was crazy nervous. I was nervous the whole match.”

She didn’t play like that, and now she has date Saturday in the Wimbledon final.

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