The medal picture at the Tokyo Olympics became much clearer on Wednesday as No.4 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine led the field into the semifinals.
World No.6 Svitolina, the highest-ranked player to reach the quarterfinals, dismissed Camila Giorgi of Italy, 6-4, 6-4, to book her spot in the final four and guarantee herself an opportunity to play for one of the medals this weekend.
"I know that for Ukraine, [the Olympics] is a really big thing," Svitolina told the media on The Olympic Channel, after her win. "I value the Olympics as a Grand Slam, and I tried to prepare to bring my best tennis. Here I am in the semifinal, and I can get a chance to get a medal. It's very special for me, but I try to take one match at a time."
Svitolina notched one of the best wins of her career at the previous Olympics, when she defeated defending gold medalist Serena Williams at 2016 Rio en route to a quarterfinal finish. Svitolina is now one round further in Tokyo after her hour-and-a-half victory over 61st-ranked Giorgi.
Garbiñe Muguruza did not fare as well. The seventh-seeded Spaniard became the latest Top 10 seed to fall with a 7-5, 6-1 loss to No.15 Elina Rybakina.
Rybakina faced only one break point the entire match.
“My serve is a weapon,”Rybakina said afterward. “I have a lot of ups and downs, but today I served really well. Actually, overall I played well – I didn’t have as many mistake as I’ve had before. I was really focused today and played good.
“It’s not easy to get in shape for such a big tournament – it’s once every four years. Physically I feel good, which is really good after I had such a tough beginning to the year. I’m really happy that here I’ve performed well.”
As for Svitolina, she converted four of her 11 break points to stem the tide of power-hitting Giorgi, who had taken out No.5 seed and Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova in the round of 16. Giorgi had five more winners but nine more unforced errors than Svitolina on the day.
It was smooth sailing early for Svitolina, who leapt to a 5-1 lead in the first set, but Giorgi saved two set points in that game, and a third at 5-3, to pull back within a single game. Svitolina, though, served out the set at her second time of asking to quell the surge by Giorgi.
The second set followed a similar pattern as Svitolina again had a double-break lead at 4-1, before Giorgi clawed one service break back to edge to 4-3. However, Svitolina dropped only one more point on serve the rest of the way, closing out the win with an ace.
"It was a really good match today, I think one of the better ones I've played here," said Svitolina, who needed three sets in each of her first three wins this week. "Definitely helps me for my next match."
In the semifinals, Svitolina will face Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic. World No.42 Vondrousova moved past 29th-ranked Paula Badosa of Spain when Badosa retired after Vondrousova won the first set 6-3.
In sweltering conditions in Tokyo, 2019 Roland Garros finalist Vondrousova continued her push through the draw, one day removed from her stunning upset of No.2 seed and home favorite Naomi Osaka.
An early 3-1 lead for Badosa was erased by Vondrousova as the Czech knocked off eight points in a row to reach 3-3. Vondrousova rolled through the opener from there, winning five straight games to close out the set, which she concluded with a passing winner off of her lefty forehand.
Badosa, having a career-best year, deemed herself unable to continue from that point forward, and the pair shared a hug as Vondrousova advanced into the medal rounds.
Serving up something special 🇨🇭@BelindaBencic carries on the rich #Olympics history of Swiss tennis, overcoming Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0 3-6 6-3 to make the #Tokyo2020 semi-finals#Tennis pic.twitter.com/yzzNUixg6m— ITF (@ITFTennis) July 28, 2021
No.9 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland also booked a spot in the semifinals, as she outlasted No.13 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 in their quarterfinal clash.
2021 Roland Garros runner-up Pavlyuchenkova had dropped a mere seven games in her first three matches of the week in Tokyo. However, Bencic was able to extend her hefty head-to-head lead over Pavlyuchenkova to 5-2 with the two-hour and 13-minute win.
The Swiss player won just over half of the points when she was returning serve, spurring her on to six breaks of service throughout the encounter.
Bencic stormed through the 25-minute bagel first set, which ended with a Pavlyuchenkova double fault. However, the Russian fought back in set two, during which she had 13 winners to Bencic’s five.
The final set opened with a lengthy four-deuce game, which Bencic won at last to take control of the decider -- a position she would not relinquish, as she fended off all of the Russian's further opportunities.
Pavlyuchenkova held three break points late in the set, but she was unable to pull back on serve following miscues. In the end, Bencic used spectacular returns to earn another break in the final game of the match, clinching a spot in the medal rounds.
More to follow....