‘War made me stronger’: Ukrainian Elina Svitolina upsets No. 1 Iga Swiatek

Tennis player Elina Svitolina holds her hands to her face at Wimbledon.
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina celebrates after beating Poland’s Iga Swiatek in a quarterfinal match at Wimbledon on Tuesday.
(Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press)
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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 and fame.

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 to this day.

And Svitolina firmly believes that those different factors do 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 as No. 3 and now is No. 76 after taking time off to start a family with her husband, tennis player Gael Monfils.

She only returned to the tour three months ago.

“Also, because I just started to play again, I have different pressures,” Svitolina said after kneeling down, then 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.”

Novak Djokovic, who had his Wimbledon match Sunday suspended because of curfew, is tired of not getting on Centre Court until nearly 9 p.m.

July 10, 2023

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 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 by grabbing the last five games after being a point from trailing 5-1 in the last set at No. 1 Court. Pegula dropped to 0-6 in major quarterfinals.

“I don’t know what happened,” the left-handed Vondrousova said.

Both women’s matches Tuesday were interrupted when rain arrived and the courts’ roofs were shut so play could continue. Swiatek used the break to animatedly chat with her sports psychologist, who was in the stands, then headed toward an off-court lounge to huddle with her coach.

None of that helped her figure out what was wrong with her spin-heavy forehand, which accounted for 57 errors — 28 unforced, 29 forced — and 22 winners.


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.”

Novak Djokovic reached his 46th Slam semifinal — tying Roger Federer’s record for men — by defeating No. 7 Andrey Rublev 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3, and next will face No. 8 Jannik Sinner. Djokovic is seeking a fifth consecutive championship at Wimbledon and an eighth overall — numbers that would equal Federer’s — and his 24th career Grand Slam trophy.

Novak Djokovic volleys a shot at Wimbledon.
Novak Djokovic volleys a shot against Andrey Rublev on Tuesday at Wimbledon.
(Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press)

Sinner made it to his first major semifinal by eliminating Roman Safiullin 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

“It means a lot me,” Sinner said. “We put a lot of work in — many, many hours off court, a lot of sacrifice — for this moment.”


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

She added the win against Swiatek to those against seven-time major champion Venus Williams in the first round, 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin in the third, and two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka in the fourth.

There is definitely a sense of urgency with all of this.

“It’s less years that I have in front than behind me. 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,” Svitolina said. “You practice for these moments, for these big moments.”