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Jabeur rides the punches to beat Sabalenka and reach Wimbledon final

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Ons Jabeur wily artistry overcame the brutal hitting of Aryna Sabalenka to reach her second Wimbledon final with a 6-7(5) 6-4 6-3 victory on Thursday.

Jabeur, who was beaten in last year’s final, looked destined to suffer more heartbreak on Centre Court when she lost the opening set, but her delicate strokeplay and clever angles eventually subdued the relentless power of Belarusian Sabalenka.

The victory set up a final between the Tunisian sixth seed and unseeded Czech Marketa Vondrousova, the 42nd-ranked former French Open finalist who ended the hopes of Ukrainian Elina Svitolina earlier on Thursday.

Jabeur, who also finished runner-up at last year’s U.S. Open, passed up four match points, but finally got over the line with an ace, calmly raising her arms to the sky in celebration before reflecting on some new-found mental toughness.

“I’m very proud of myself because maybe the old me would have lost the match today and went back home already, but I’m glad that I kept digging very deep and finding the strength,” she said.

Jabeur, who is bidding to become the first African woman as well as first Arab to win a major, has shown real steel to come through this year, becoming the first woman to defeat three top-10 opponents at Wimbledon since Serena Williams, perhaps one of the game’s toughest competitors, in 2012.

Sabalenka, who missed last year’s tournament due to Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players, was as tough an opponent as she could have faced.

The second seed possessed an envious recent Grand Slam record having won the Australian Open in January and reached the last four at Roland Garros while the world number one spot was hers had she beaten Jabeur.

The opening set was tight with both players seeing break points slip through their fingers before it moved into a tiebreak.

Jabeur claimed the box seat when she guided a stunning forehand down the line for a 4-2 lead but Sabalenka came roaring back, winning the next four points to set up two set points.

She let the first one go begging before Jabeur sent a return long to hand the opening set to the Belarusian, only the third that Jabeur had lost in the tournament so far.

By this point Sabalenka had started grunting loudly on serve, with some of her roars lasting so long they extended beyond her opponent’s return and almost joined up with her next loud exhalation.

The second set was far more of a roller-coaster, with Sabalenka earning the first break of the match in the fifth game to go 3-2 up.

With the Belarusian’s serve proving rock solid up to that point, the situation was looking bleak for Jabeur, but momentum swung quickly in her favour.

A double fault from Sabalenka gave Jabeur a break point before her opponent netted a forehand for 4-4.

The pressure was right back on the Belarusian in her next service game with Jabeur setting up a set point which she gobbled up with a backhand return down the line to level the contest.

Sabalenka saved two break points in the sixth game of the third set with two huge forehand winners that flew of her racket like bullets but when Jabeur crafted a third she had no answer, sending a backhand long to put the Tunisian within sight of the finish line.

After holding serve, Jabeur earned her first two match points on the Sabalenka serve, but the world number two again gave a demonstration of her power, saving the first with an ace and the second when Jabeur’s return landed long. That only delayed the celebrations, however, as Jabeur eased to 40-0 on her serve, again spurning the first two match points before sealing a place in the final with an ace.

When Marketa Vondrousova fell to her knees in triumph after ending Elina Svitolina’s incredible Wimbledon odyssey on Thursday, the Czech not only crushed the dreams of a new mother but also of a war-torn nation desperate to witness some cheer.

Svitolina’s remarkable run to the Wimbledon semi-finals nine months after she gave birth to daughter Skai had offered some much needed joy to Ukrainians who have been trying to cope with Russia’s invasion of the country for the last 17 months.

Against that backdrop of destruction, millions of Ukrainians had been following the Wimbledon fortunes of Svitolina and rejoiced as she took down four Grand Slam champions, including Poland’s world number one Iga Swiatek, to reach the last four.

Although 28-year-old Svitolina was left totally distraught when Vondrousova cut short that run on Thursday, the turmoil in her homeland remained at the forefront of her thoughts.

“It’s unbelievable that they have been there with me all the way. Hopefully they continue,” she said as her eyes welled up.”My family was watching. A lot of people, as well, in Ukraine. I’m really happy that it was live in Ukraine because it took some years to make this happen for Ukrainian people. It’s really important for kids to watch tennis and other sports as well, to have something different in their life, for them to set their dreams, to set their goals,” Svitolina said.

Novak Djokovic continues his hunt for a fifth straight Wimbledon title and eighth overall to equal Roger Federer’s record haul when the Serbian meets Jannik Sinner in the semi-finals on Friday knowing the threat the young Italian poses.

The in-form 36-year-old, who is also chasing a men’s record-extending 24th Grand Slam trophy and the number one ranking, was a set away from being knocked out by Sinner in the quarter-finals at the grass court major last year before a great escape.

Djokovic has been rock-solid in London despite being extended to four sets by big-serving Pole Hubert Hurkacz and Andrey Rublev in the last two rounds, but the second seed will be aware that a vastly-improved Sinner can be a stumbling block.

“He’s playing on a high level… He likes to play on quick surfaces because he likes to be aggressive and take control of the point,” said Djokovic, the Australian Open and French Open champion who is nine wins away from a calendar slam.

STRENGTH-TO-STRENGTH

Hoping to deny Djokovic and keep the number one ranking will be top seed Carlos Alcaraz, who has to first negotiate a tricky opponent in fellow first-time Wimbledon semi-finalist Daniil Medvedev, the Russian third seed.

Alcaraz has gone from strength-to-strength after clinching the Queen’s Club crown despite a lack of experience on grass and showed his class again in a straight-sets defeat of fellow young gun Holger Rune, the Danish sixth seed, in the previous round.

The 20-year-old Spaniard will need to show his best form to overcome Medvedev, another player enjoying a superb 2023 with five titles already, although he struggled to beat American debutant Christopher Eubanks in the quarter-finals.

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