Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic became the first unseeded player in 60 years to reach the Wimbledon women's final on Thursday, crushing the title dreams of Ukraine's Elina Svitolina.

 

World number 42 Vondrousova came through 6-3, 6-3 and will face either second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus or last year's runner-up Ons Jabeur for the title on Saturday.

Should Australian Open champion Sabalenka make it through, she will replace Iga Swiatek as new world number one.

 

However, she will also cause some potentially awkward optics if she wins the title as she would receive the trophy from Princess Catherine, the wife of the heir to the British throne.

Twelve months ago, Sabalenka and all Belarusian and Russian players were banned from Wimbledon following the invasion of Ukraine.

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Belarus is a key ally of Moscow.

 

Left-hander 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 unleashing 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. I was leading 4-0 in the second set and she fought back."

 

Reaching the final comes after a miserable time for the Czech -- she underwent a second surgery on her wrist last year, which ruled her out for most of 2022.

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"I didn't play for six months last year and you never know if you can be at that level again," she said. "I'm so happy to be back out here."

 

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 in the tie.

 

An error-plagued Svitolina quickly fell 4-0 down in the second set.

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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.

 

- 'Needed the ban' -

 

Sabalenka is into her fourth successive Grand Slam semi-final and second at the All England Club after 2021.

 

The 25-year-old said last year's ban allowed her to reset her career.

 

"Although I was very sad to miss the tournament, I was like, 'OK, this is probably something I really needed'," said Sabalenka, who went into Thursday's match with a tournament-leading 35 aces.

 

During the first set of her semi-final against Jabeur, she unleashed the fastest women's serve at Wimbledon this year with a 121 mph (194.7 km/h) rocket. 

 

Since the 2022 All England Club ban, Sabalenka has made the semi-finals of the US Open, won the Australian Open in January and then reached another Grand Slam semi-final at the French Open in June.

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Her victory in Australia was one of three titles she has claimed in 2023. She has 40 match wins for the season. 

 

Jabeur, 28, is in the semi-finals for a second successive year.

 

On Wednesday, she defeated Elena Rybakina to avenge her loss to the Kazakh in last year's final, which she admits is still "too painful" to watch.

 

Tunisian trailblazer Jabeur has battled to make the last four -- coming from a set down to beat former US Open winner Bianca Andreescu in the third round and over-turning another deficit to see off Rybakina.

 

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