WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Marketa Vondrousova became the first unseeded women’s finalist at Wimbledon since Billie Jean King in 1963, eliminating Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-3 on Thursday by reeling off seven consecutive games in one stretch and then holding on for the victory.
Vondrousova is a 24-year-old left-hander from the Czech Republic who is ranked 43rd. She reached the second Grand Slam final of her career after getting that far as a teenager at the 2019 French Open.
“I was crazy nervous,” said Vondrouova, who bowed her head and knelt at the baseline when the match was over. “I was nervous, actually, the whole match.”
On Saturday, she will face No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka or No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur, the 2022 runner-up at Wimbledon.
Ranked No. 76 and also unseeded, Svitolina returned to the tour from maternity leave just three months ago. She was trying to become the first woman from Ukraine to make it to the title match at a major tennis tournament and received loud support from thousands in the crowd, the applause and yells echoing off the closed Centre Court roof.
“She’s such a fighter,” said Vondrousova, who compiled a 22-9 edge in total winners, “and she’s also such a great person.”
Svitolina has said that she is playing more freely and more calmly nowadays, something she attributed to having the dual motivations of playing for her baby daughter, who was born in October, and of trying to bring happiness to people in her home country, where an ongoing war began with Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
From 3-all in the opening set Thursday, Svitolina’s level began to dip, while Vondrousova’s rose. Over the ensuing half-hour, Vondrousova was in complete control, so much so that she took that set and pulled ahead 4-0 in the next.
And then came something of a course correction. At 4-0, 40-love, Vondrousova was a point from being up 5-0. Indeed, she wound up with five opportunities to take one point for that huge margin. But she couldn’t quite do it, and Svitolina suddenly surged to get within 4-3.
Vondrousova righted herself, though, and put an end to that mini-streak, collecting the last two games to move on to the final. She missed much of last season because of an operation on her left wrist, but she is now back at the height of her powers and back in the spotlight of a Grand Slam final.
A year ago, she came to Wimbledon with a cast on that arm to watch her best friend play in the qualifying rounds.
“I didn’t play for six months last year. You never know if you can be at that level again,” Vondrousova said. “And I’m just so grateful to be here and to be healthy. To play tennis again.”
Asked during her on-court interview how she plans to prepare for Saturday, Vondrousova laughed.
“I’m just going to chill now,” she replied.