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Under-the-radar Svitolina reaches first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon 2019

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 10 Jul 2019
  • Elina Svitolina will face Simona Halep in the Wimbledon semifinals
  • First major semifinal appearance for the WTA Finals Singapore champion
  • Svitolina defeated Karolina Muchova 7-5, 6-4
Elina Svitolina celebrates reaching the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time (PA Sports)

Elina Svitolina has been flying under the radar - all the way into her first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon.

Eighth seed Elina Svitolina reached the semifinals of a major for the first time at Wimbledon on Tuesday after defeating Karolina Muchova.

The reigning WTA Finals Singapore champion had made the quarterfinals of the French Open twice and the Australian Open twice, but never gone further - and her record at Wimbledon was an unimpressive 5-6 before this year.

That's one of the reasons few would have picked Svitolina to get this far in a quarter that included Eastbourne champion Karolina Pliskova and French Open semifinalist Marketa Vondrousova. 

Elina Svitolina (PA Sports)
Another reason is that Svitolina has been struggling in 2019. After ending 2018 by winning the biggest title of her career at the season-ending championships in Singapore, Svitolina started 2019 as world no. 4 and made her fourth Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open, losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka. She went on to make the semifinals of Doha, Dubai and Indian Wells, but a knee injury incurred in Dubai saw her follow her early defeat in Miami with the announcement that she was taking time to rehab the joint. Svitolina returned to action in Madrid, but only won one match in the following five events, including going 0-2 on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon with defeats to Margarita Gasparyan in Birmingham and Alize Cornet in Eastbourne.

Svitolina acknowledged that the relative lack of focus on her coming into the tournament and in the earlier rounds may have helped her manage her campaign.

'Actually [I] was happy no one really looked at my matches before,' Svitolina said. 'Everyone was watching other matches, other players. So it was quite different, you know. [...] Before, like going into Roland-Garros a couple of times, I had lots of expectations, lots of pressure … Here I just had probably the pressure from myself. I handle it pretty good.

'It's just about trying to find my game, try to enjoy. Yeah, don't think too much about what can happen.'

Svitolina has also been proving the maxim that it doesn't matter how you start, but how you finish, almost on a round-by-round basis. After a straight-sets win over Daria Gavrilova, she had to come back from a set and a break down against Margarita Gasparyan - who had beaten her in Birmingham - before her opponent was forced to retire. She weathered a second-set storm from Maria Sakkari in the third round, and in the fourth, a truly marathon first set against Petra Martic turned in Svitolina's favour and the match along with it when the Croatian started to struggle with a back injury. 

Karolina Muchova (PA Sports)
Against the unseeded Karolina Muchova in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, Svitolina faced a real talent, as was evident in the shot-making talent the Czech produced to lead 5-2 in the first set - not to mention the fact that she had knocked out third seed Pliskova in a marathon match on Monday that lasted three hours and 19 minutes. It was that fact which was key to Svitolina's tactics. 

'[...] I had to make the match physical. I had to really push her physically because I knew obviously that she played three hours yesterday,' Svitolina said.

'She was, you know, a little bit tired. She had to play like one, two-shot rallies. That's why I had to run a lot, I had to get lots of balls back, I tried to make one extra ball over the net.'

Making 'one extra ball' and doing an inordinate amount of running are two of Svitolina's trademarks and she did both to perfection on Tuesday, displaying her tremendous turn of speed as she chased everything down and tried to smother Muchova with consistent depth. It worked as she slowly ground the Czech player down, forcing her to play in a way that demanded more from her than she had to give. 

'I was obviously a little tired today,' Muchova said afterwards. 'Still I think I could make it in the first set. It was 5-2. But, yeah, my energy level was going down all the time. Somehow, I couldn't put it back. Yeah, she played great, so it was tough then.'

Grass is perhaps the least likely surface for Svitolina to have made her first Grand Slam semifinal, but now that she is here, you have to consider that she has given herself a good chance to make the final because she has a winning record against her opponent in Thursday's match, Simona Halep. Svitolina leads their head-to-head 4-3, and although she lost their most recent match, she has won three of the last four they played.

But Svitolina won't be thinking too far ahead; after all, it's that approach which has seen her reach a first major semifinal.

'You just try to think about different things. If you start to think about, OK, it's the first time semi-final, like, stop it. Like, stop it,' she said. 'Let's think what I'm going to have for dinner.'

Svitolina might want to pass that advice on to her boyfriend Gael Monfils, judging by the exuberant video the pair posted on their joint Instagram account:

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Under-the-radar Svitolina reaches first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon 2019

World no. 8 Elina Svitolina came back from 2-5 down in the first set to beat the talented Karolina Muchova and reach the semifinals of a major for the first time at Wimbledon, where she will face Simona Halep

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