Svitolina Thinks of Family, Ukraine as She Beats No. 1 at Wimbledon

The last time Elina Svitolina was a Grand Slam semifinalist — twice, actually, in 2019 — she was pursuing the usual trappings of success in professional sports: trophies, money, fame, etc.

Now Svitolina plays for more important reasons. For her daughter, Skaï, who was born in October. For her country, Ukraine, where a war that began with Russia’s invasion in February 2022 continues.

And Svitolina firmly believes that those factors affect the way she swings a racket and the way she handles important moments on a tennis court. Enough so that she is one of the last four women remaining at Wimbledon after adding to her series of surprising victories over major champions with a 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory against No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek on Tuesday.

“War made me stronger and also made me mentally stronger. Mentally, I don’t take difficult situations as, like, a disaster, you know? There are worse things in life. I’m just more calmer,” said Svitolina, 28, who once was ranked as high No. 3 and now is No. 76 after taking time off to start a family with her husband, tennis player Gael Monfils.

She returned to the tour three months ago.

“Also, because I just started to play again, I have different pressures,” Svitolina said after kneeling and covering her face with her hands, when Swiatek missed one last forehand at Centre Court. “Of course, I want to win. I have this motivation, like huge motivation, to come back to the top. But I think having a child — and war — made me a different person. I look at the things a bit differently.”

She received a wild-card entry from the All England Club to get into the field and now will face another unseeded player, 42nd-ranked Marketa Vondrousova, for a berth in Saturday’s final.

Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open runner-up, beat fourth-seeded Jessica Pegula.

Swiatek, who was coming off claiming her fourth Grand Slam title at the French Open last month, felt the change in the way Svitolina smacked balls over the Centre Court net. That included a stretch where Svitolina won 20 of 22 points during a stretch that spanned the end of the first set and start of the second.

“She played with more freedom and more guts. Sometimes, she really just let go of her hand,” Swiatek said, pantomiming a forehand, “and she played really, really fast.”

Svitolina certainly did not expect to still be around this deep into the fortnight. She originally wasn’t even planning to get back in action after giving birth until around now. But she and Monfils started working out together on January 2, and Svitolina’s progress was substantial enough that she altered her timeline.

Svitolina’s phone has been inundated by messages of support from her native country, and she’s seen videos of kids there following her matches.

“This really makes my heart melt, seeing this,” she said. “Just happy I could bring a little happiness to the people of Ukraine.”

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