Elena Rybakina powers past Elina Svitolina to reach Wimbledon semi-final

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A couple of weeks before the start of Wimbledon, Elena Rybakina had an all too familiar setback. In the early stages of a quarter-final during a warm‑up tournament in Berlin, she retired with a stomach injury. A cloud of uncertainty still hung over her ­status as she returned to ­Wimbledon, where in 2022 she won her first and only major title.

But as Rybakina has progressed through the draw and all of her rivals have gradually fallen away, she has reached the final stages performing at a spectacular level and reinforcing her status as the ­prohibitive favourite. Rybakina returned to the semi-finals with an imperious performance on Centre Court, crushing a helpless Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-2.

In the past two years Rybakina has established herself inside the top five while consistently making deep runs and winning titles across all surfaces. She might have achieved even more if not for the health problems she has had to ­consistently address. She has retired or withdrawn from matches six times over the past year, mostly because of illnesses that have con­tinued to affect her matches and training for weeks. This time around, she has quickly shaken off those issues and rediscovered her form.

“I’m feeling pretty well on the court, especially last three matches,” Rybakina said. “I think I showed really good tennis. Sometimes serve can be off, but then the groundstrokes are really well. I’m playing pretty confident. As we all know, sometimes you wake up and something can happen. Hopefully nothing is going to happen tomorrow. For sure I will try to stay focused and show the same tennis.”

As Rybakina seeks a second grand slam title to reinforce her status as one of the best players in the world, the 25-year-old will face another player seeking to solidify herself as a multiple slam winner.

On No 1 Court, the 31st seed ­Barbora Krejcikova outplayed Jelena Ostapenko, seeded 13th, to win 6-4, 7-6 (4) in a battle between the Roland Garros champions of 2021 and 2017 respectively. Rybakina and Krejcikova, the last remaining grand slam winners in the draw, will face each other on Thursday.

While Rybakina set the tone with her massive, precise serving and her determination to take the first strike off both wings, much of the ­opening set was extremely competitive. ­Svitolina held her ground well, serving effectively and comfortably redirecting Rybakina’s pace.

At 4-3, with the new balls imbuing her vicious strokes with even more pace, Rybakina’s level skyrocketed and she separated herself from her opponent. She returned spectacularly, even as Svitolina landed ample first serves, taking the decisive break to love before closing out a clean set with a 115mph ace out wide.

Barbora Krejcikova won the battle of French Open champions against Jelena Ostapenko.View image in fullscreen

By the time Rybakina had reeled off five consecutive games to lead 6-3, 2-0, there was only going to be one winner. For all the grit, consistency and resourcefulness Svitolina competes with, she was completely flattened by one of the best servers and ball ­strikers in the world.

“It’s very, very difficult because I feel like I’m in a good form,” Svitolina said. “I feel like I played really good tennis. Of course, when the opponent is striking the ball that big, everything goes in. Serve goes really quick. Lots of aces. It’s tough to do anything. I was trying to dig, trying to fight, ­trying to get my chances back, but she didn’t really let me.”

As Rybakina reinforced her status as favourite, Svitolina departed Centre Court satisfied with her progress. In her emphatic fourth‑round victory against Wang Xinyu, the Ukrainian took to the court hours after a Russian missile struck a children’s hospital in Kyiv. After that match, Svitolina said that her mind was in a fog, with the victims of the attack dominating her thoughts, but she was still able to focus and perform.

While Svitolina has opted against shaking hands of Russian opponents, she has chosen not to avoid ­Russian‑born players who now represent other countries. After Rybakina, a Moscow-born Kazakhstani, closed out the win with her seventh ace, the pair greeted each other respectfully before going their separate ways.

Source: theguardian.com

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