Ukraine still ‘very proud’ despite end of Wimbledon run for Svitolina | Wimbledon 2023

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Ukrainians said they “could not be more proud” of their champion Elina Svitolina, who has been stopped in her extraordinary run at Wimbledon by the Czech Markéta Vondroušová.

Vondroušová became the first unseeded women’s Wimbledon finalist since Billie Jean King in 1963, holding off a second-set fight back by Svitolina in the semi-finals. Vondroušová made a triumphant return to her second career grand slam final with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Svitolina. Speaking after the match, Vondroušová said: “I can’t really believe [it].”

There have been a number of surprise grand slam finalists in the women’s singles in recent years, but Vondroušová, who is ranked 42nd in the world, admitted before the semi-final she “never thought” she could do well on grass.

The Czech, who had never played on Centre Court before, added: “I’m just so happy. Elina is such a fighter and also a great person. It was such a tough match.”

But Ukrainians still hailed Svitolina’s “crazy” run at SW19, which came less than nine months after giving birth to her daughter and against the backdrop of war in her homeland.

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Earlier in the week Svitolina pulled off one of the performances of her career in defeating the top seed, Iga Świątek, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-2 to return to the Wimbledon semi-finals, which she last reached in 2019 when she lost to Simona Halep.

Afterwards, she spoke about her hope of bringing “a little happiness” to the people of Ukraine. “I know that lots of people back in Ukraine are watching,” she said. “It definitely means a lot.”

Anja Kachetzhiyiva, who was born in Kharkiv but is now based in London, said that Svitolina had been an inspiration, both for the people in Ukraine and the diaspora.

“We are already very proud. She’s already exceeded expectations on all fronts. She will continue to be the mum, the Ukrainian raising money for charity, and just being an all round, nice person,” she said.

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Kachetzhiyiva, a trustee of the charity Opora, which supports Ukrainians in the UK, said that as a new mother herself she had loved seeing Svitolina progress to the later stages of the competition.

Svitolina returned to the WTA tour only three months ago and reached the quarter-finals of the French Open last month in her first grand slam appearance since giving birth. She had a daughter, Skaï, in October with her husband and fellow tennis player, Gaël Monfils.

“As a recent mum myself, it is such an inspiration to see a mum who eight months after giving birth smashing it, literally smashing it on the court,” said Kachetzhiyiva. “We couldn’t wish for a better figure representing us on a sports stage.”

Maria Granovska, a Ukrainian who has family in and around Kyiv, watched Svitolina play from the hill at Wimbledon.

“I think it is one of the only times where you can feel so optimistic about the future and proud,” she said. Svitolina’s progression to the semi-final had given “everyone so much hope and empowerment seeing someone Ukrainian succeed at such a level”, she said.

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The Ukrainian ambassador Vadym Prystaiko and his wife Inna were in the royal box for Svitolina’s semi-final defeat, but by the time the Belarusian No 1 Aryna Sabalenka’s clash with Ons Jabeur had started, their front row seats had been vacated.

There are potential headaches for organisers as Wimbledon enters its final stages, with the Russian Daniil Medvedev through to the men’s semis after a scintillating five-set win against the American Chris Eubanks. Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon last year but have been allowed to compete this year under a neutral flag.

Elina Svitolina during her match against Iga Świątek on Centre Court
Elina Svitolina during her match against Iga Świątek on Centre Court. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Some have questioned the optics for the royal family if the Princess of Wales, patron of the All England Club and a keen tennis fan, is pictured handing over the trophy and shaking the hands of a Russian or Belarusian player.

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