Ons Jabeur and Marketa Vondrousova will meet in Saturday’s Wimbledon women’s final, helping the All England avoid a potentially embarrassing diplomatic headache.
Tunisian world number six Jabeur fought back from a set and 4-2 down to defeat Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-3 to reach a second successive final at the tournament.
Czech left-hander Vondrousova ended Elina Svitolina’s dream of delivering a Grand Slam title for Ukraine with a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 win, becoming the first unseeded woman to make the final in 60 years.
Had Sabalenka gone on to win the title on Saturday, she would have received the trophy from Princess Catherine, the wife of the heir to the British throne, a year after all Belarusian and Russian players were banned from the tournament following the invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus is a key ally of Moscow.
If she had reached the final, Svitolina would have maintained her policy of not shaking hands with Russian and Belarusian rivals in protest at the war.
Tunisian trailblazer Jabeur has now fought back three times from dropping the first set at this year’s tournament.
“I’m very proud of myself because maybe old me would have lost the match today and went back home already but I’m glad that I kept digging deep and finding the strength,” she said.
Saturday’s final will be her third at the Slams after losing to Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon and Iga Swiatek at the US Open last year.
Sabalenka, 25, playing in her fourth successive Grand Slam semi-final and sixth in total, recovered from 2/4 down in the tiebreak to clinch the first set.
She also unleashed the fastest women’s serve at Wimbledon this year with a 121 mph (194.7 km/h) rocket.
Sabalenka, who had defeated Jabeur on her way to the last four at Wimbledon in 2021, broke for a 3-2 lead in the second set.
That stretched to 4-2 before Jabeur hit back from the brink to reel off the next four games and level the contest.
Sabalenka’s spirit ebbed away and she was broken in the sixth game of the decider before Jabeur claimed victory on a fifth match point with a clean ace.
‘Lot Of Responsibility’
Sabalenka hit 39 winners but committed 45 unforced errors as her hopes of adding the Wimbledon title to her Australian Open victory and of taking Swiatek’s world number one ranking were dashed.
“I had so many opportunities and didn’t use them. She played better in the key moments,” said the Belarusian.
World number 42 Vondrousova will be playing in her second Grand Slam final after finishing runner-up at the 2019 French Open.
On Thursday, the 24-year-old was rewarded for her attacking approach, breaking serve six times and hitting 22 winners to Svitolina’s nine.
“I cannot believe it. I am very happy that I made the final. Elina is such a fighter and a great person,” said the Czech. “I was crazy nervous.”
Reaching the final comes after a miserable time for the Czech — she underwent a second wrist operation last year, which ruled her out for a huge chunk of 2022.
World number 76 Svitolina, who only returned to the sport from maternity leave in April, dropped serve three times in the opening set.
She managed to retrieve the first to level at 3-3 but the Czech broke again in the seventh and ninth games to edge ahead.
An error-plagued Svitolina quickly fell 4-0 down in the second set.
However, Vondrousova, who had seen off four seeded players to reach the semi-finals, suddenly suffered mid-set jitters as she handed back the breaks to allow Svitolina to pull to 3-4.
Svitolina then undid all her hard work to be broken again in the eighth game before pushing a forehand long to hand her opponent a place in the final.
Svitolina said representing war-torn Ukraine was a major motivating factor but added: “It’s a lot of responsibility, a lot of tension.”
“I try to balance it as much as I can. But, yeah, sometimes it gets maybe too much.”