Svitolina reaches Wimbledon semis as Djokovic eyes new landmark

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Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina (left) and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic (right) during the 2023 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon. — AFP
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina (left) and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic (right) during the 2023 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon. — AFP

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, world number 76, on Tuesday stunned world number one Iga Swiatek to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals, as Novak Djokovic targeted a record-equalling 46th major semi-final.

Svitolina, who gave birth last October and only returned to the tour in April, came through 7-5, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 despite being a break down in both of the first two sets against the reigning US Open and French Open champion.

She will take on Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova for a place in Saturday’s championship match, AFP reported. 

Unseeded Vondrousova made the semi-finals by seeing off fourth-ranked Jessica Pegula 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

Svitolina, playing on a wild card, has reached the last four by seeing off a quartet of Grand Slam title winners in Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin, Victoria Azarenka, in a stormy last-16 clash, and now Swiatek.

She said she intended to "enjoy the moment and have a beer".

"If you had told me before the tournament I would get to the semi-finals, I'd say you were crazy," said Svitolina, who also made the last eight at the French Open last month.

She could have had the match wrapped up in straight sets when she led 4/1 in the second-set tiebreaker before Swiatek hit back.

However, the 28-year-old Ukrainian composed herself, racing away to a double break in the decider.

"I told Elina at the net that I am rooting for her. I want to see her win the title," said Swiatek, who was playing in her first quarter-final at the All England Club.

Svitolina's win kept alive the prospect of a politically charged final between her and Belarusian world number two Aryna Sabalenka.

Belarus is a key ally of Russia in the war in Ukraine.

On Court One, Pegula, still searching for a semi-final place at the majors, led 4-1 in the final set against 42nd-ranked Vondrousova.

But the American was unable to push on as former French Open runner-up Vondrousova stormed back once the roof was closed on the arena.

"I don't know what happened," said the 24-year-old. "I was 1-4 down. It's an amazing feeling."

Djokovic, chasing a record-equalling eighth Wimbledon title and 24th Grand Slam, plays his 400th match at the majors when he meets Andrey Rublev in his quarter-final.

The 36-year-old boasts a 3-1 winning record against Rublev including a straight-sets demolition in January's Australian Open quarter-finals when he lost just seven games.

"Andrey is a fantastic player who's got one of the best forehands in the game. Brings a lot of intensity to the court with his grunts," said the world number two.

"He kind of scares off his opponents across the net! Extremely nice guy."

Rublev is one of four Russian and Belarusian players - three men, one woman -- to make the quarter-finals.

Twelve months ago, they were banned from the tournament in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

'One of the best'

World number seven Rublev needed five sets to get past Russian-born Kazakh Alexander Bublik in the last 16.

He is in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for the first time and eighth at the majors but has never made it to a semi-final.

"Novak is one of the best players on grass. Nothing else to say," said the 25-year-old.

The winner of that quarter-final will face either eighth-seeded Jannik Sinner or world number 92 Roman Safiullin of Russia.

Sinner reached the same stage in 2022, losing to Djokovic from two sets up.

Slender in frame, Sinner packs a huge punch, delivering the third-fastest serve of the tournament so far at 139 mph (223.7 km/h).

The 25-year-old Safiullin had never previously got past the second round at a Slam but has knocked out two former semi-finalists in Roberto Bautista Agut and Denis Shapovalov.