Takeaways from No. 1 Iga Swiatek’s surprising loss to Elina Svitolina

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LONDON — Tuesday’s quarterfinal between Elina Svitolina and world No. 1 Iga Swiatek was a stunner — for both women. Swiatek is out of Wimbledon after looking like a potential tournament winner, and wild card Svitolina is into the semis for only the second time in her career, only three months into her return from maternity leave.

“This is unbelievable. I’m really happy I got this chance to play here again and play this great match in a great atmosphere,” Svitolina said in her on-court interview. “It was an unbelievable feeling. It was not easy to play today against Iga, the world No. 1. She is always fighting.”

Swiatek now looks ahead to the hard-court season, while Svitolina prepares for the semis. But first things first. Before she begins preparation for Thursday’s match against Czech player Marketa Vondrousova, Svitolina said she wants to enjoy her win.

“First of all, I’m going to have a beer,” she said.

Here are five takeaways from the match.

Grass remains Swiatek’s weakest surface.

Let’s start with a caveat: Swiatek is no slouch on grass. After her quarterfinal run here this year, her win percentage on the green stuff has improved to 72.2% (she’s 13-6 on the surface), which is only slightly lower than her success rate on hard courts (74.6%), where she has a 2022 Australian Open semifinal appearance and 2022 US Open title to her credit. (On clay, she’s unparalleled, having won 87.5% of her matches and the past three French Open titles.)

Swiatek, 22, said earlier this week that she believes the best players can win on any surface, and she’s working hard to lift her grass game. Arguably, she has. Swiatek beat the No. 9 player in the world to make the semis at Bad Homburg before pulling out with possible food poisoning last month and played into the Wimbledon quarters for the first time this year, surviving a difficult draw and gritting out a tough three-set win against Belinda Bencic in the third round. One set down against Bencic, who’s terrific on grass, she saved two match points and found a way to claw back and win. That’s the souvenir she should take home with her from Wimbledon.

Svitolina is playing some of her best tennis …

Four years ago, the Ukrainian made the quarters in Melbourne and the semis at Wimbledon and the US Open and returned to her career-high ranking of No. 3. After a couple of inconsistent years, she took time off last spring to deal with injuries and the emotional toll of a war in her home country, and in May, announced she was pregnant.

Her return to Wimbledon came just nine months after the birth of her daughter, Skai, on Oct. 15, and three months after her return to the tour. Wimbledon offered Svitolina a wild card into the main draw and at the tournament’s outset, she sat at 100:1 odds to take the title.

Then she became only the third woman since rankings were introduced in 1975 (after Justine Henin and Serena Williams) to defeat four major champions in one Slam, and only the fifth wild card to play into the semis at a major.

“I think Elina was overall playing aggressively and giving it all in every shot,” Swiatek said after the match. “I felt like she’s playing differently than before. She put pressure on me.”

… and she was the crowd favorite on Tuesday

It’s no surprise the crowd backed Svitolina. The Wimbledon fans are knowledgeable ones. They cheer for great tennis — Svitolina gave them a lot of that Tuesday — and great stories. At this point, there’s no better storyline left in the tournament than that of Elina Svitolina.

Her story is also reminiscent of another popular mom. In 2018, Serena Williams played into the final here just 10 months after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, and three months after her return to tour. The energy and support from the British crowd was electric, and it felt similarly inside Centre Court on Tuesday. If Svitolina beats Vondrousova on Thursday, expect Serena-level support for her in Saturday’s final.

Swiatek’s forehand let her down

Down a set and two breaks, Swiatek’s final shot of the match — a forehand error — was illustrative of her struggles on Tuesday. Despite hitting 37 winners, she made 39 unforced errors, most of them on her forehand side.

“My forehand wasn’t the best,” Swiatek said. “But Elina played with more freedom and more guts. Sometimes she just let go of her hand and she played really, really fast.”

Swiatek’s powerful forehand and unconventional grip are often the talk of a tournament. She uses the shot to dictate points and dominate games from the baseline. But Svitolina, who’s also known for her firepower, utilized rhythm changes and fast shots to jam Swiatek at the baseline and force her into a parade of errors.

Swiatek’s No. 1 ranking is now in jeopardy

With Svitolina currently ranked No. 76, she handed Swiatek her worst defeat since March 2021. But because Swiatek advanced to the quarterfinals, world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka must win the tournament to overtake the No. 1 ranking. Sabalenka sailed through the fourth round, winning her final eight games against No. 21 Ekaterina Alexandrova, but faces a tough quarterfinal match against American Madison Keys on Wednesday.

Now she can focus on defending her US Open title

Swiatek had a strong start to the season on hard-courts, and after leaving Wimbledon, she’ll want to pick up right where she left off on the surface. Despite the early exit for her here, she remains the favorite to win in New York.

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