Elina Svitolina is on a mission. And she seems to be in a hurry to accomplish it. The reason? In her own words, the Ukranian wildcard, who stunned world number one Iga Swiatek to storm into the Wimbledon semis for a second time in four years, she does not have "time to lose anymore".
What makes her run so far at the Wimbledon more inspiring is that the 28-year-old is on a comeback trail after giving birth to daughter Skai last October, with her husband and fellow tennis player Gaël Monfils. She is the first mother after Evonne Goolagong in 1979 to make the quarterfinals or better in her first two Grand Slams since giving birth. A former world number three, Svitolina reached the French Open quarterfinal last month – her first Grand Slam tournament after the break.
Svitolina has been playing a fearless brand of tennis; an observation all her four opponents so far can vouch for. In fact, she has beaten four Grand Slam champions - Venus Williams (first round), Sofia Kenin (third round), Victoria Azarenka (fourth round) and Swiatek – on the golden run at the grass court major.
Svitolina had reached only two semifinals in 36 Grand Slams before she went on the maternity break last year. So, how did she hit this purple patch? Surprising it may sound, but she credits it to the ongoing war between her country Ukraine and Russia. “I think war made me stronger and also made me mentally stronger,” she said. “Mentally I don’t take difficult situations as like a disaster, you know? There are worse things in life.”
She won her first title in almost two years in Strasbourg, donating her prize money to the humanitarian aid for Ukrainian children.
“I’m just calmer,” she said. “I think also, because I just started to play again, I have different pressures. 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 things a bit differently.”
Born in Odessa, Ukraine, to Mikhaylo Svitolin - a wrestler - and Olena Svitolina - a professional rower – Svitolina started playing tennis at five. Her role model was Andre Agassi. Her talent was spotted by business magnate Yuriy Sapronov, who decided to sponsor her training. The family moved to Kharkiv in 2008.
She won the 2010 French Open girls' title, and also reached the 2012 Wimbledon girls' final, where she lost to Eugenie Bouchard.
Svitolina was the first Ukrainian woman to ever break into the top 10 of the WTA singles rankings. She reached the quarterfinals in the French Open in 2015, 2017, and in the Australian Open in 2018. The year 2019 saw her reaching new heights – making the semis in the Wimbledon and the US Open.
In 2021, Svitolina won the Olympic bronze medal in women's singles, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, becoming the first Olympian to win a medal in tennis for Ukraine.
The Wimbledon trophy is within her reach this year, but she must first overcome the unseeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who defeated Jessica Pegula, to reach her first Grand Slam final.
Svitolina knows that the clock is ticking. "Right now, I just say to myself I think it's less years that I have in front than behind me. I have to go for it. I don't know how many years I will be playing more."