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Ukraine president Zelensky lauds ‘wonderful’ Svitolina for winning 1st Olympic tennis medal since independence with epic comeback

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Tennis ace Elina Svitolina has won praise from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, after recovering from a first-set hammering to win bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in a marathon contest that she admitted took its toll.

World number six Svitolina lost five games in a row to 22-year-old Kazakh Andreyevna Rybakina early in the women’s singles bronze medal match, battling back to narrowly avoid a straight sets defeat by taking the second on a 7-5 tie-break.

The 26-year-old, who recently married fellow tennis star Gael Monfils, was on the floor after winning the deciding set 6-4 to seal a medal that she said was hugely important to her.

“This is the country’s first Olympic medal in tennis since the beginning of independence,” observed Zelensky, publicly praising his country’s “wonderful” top tennis player. “Thanks for the victory. We are rooting for our people.”

In a match lasting around two-and-a-half hours, Svitolina was on the brink of exiting the tournament again when she went 4-1 down in the third set before winning five games in a row to secure a podium place.

“I was in a good mood for the match but my nerves probably played a role,” she confessed to BTU, having been crushed 6-3, 6-1 by Czech world number 42 Marketa Vondrousova in the semifinals.

“It’s hard to return to the court when you have already lost a match; at tennis tournaments we always play for elimination. After losing the first game, it was very difficult to get back on track.

“I bounced back from the break in the second set and in the third. There were very few chances but I just tried to fight to the end and not give up. I gave all my remaining strength.

“I think my character brought me back into the match. It was an incredible victory. I spent all my strength to come back.

“Now I’m standing and everything hurts. My legs no longer hold. But I am glad that I was able to win – this bronze is of great importance and means a lot to me.”

Frenchman Monfils was among those cheering Svitolina on via social media, where she told her following of more than 782,000 that it was “impossible to describe these emotions”.

“For the love of my country,” she added, as the official Women’s Tennis Association account replied to describe itself as “incredibly proud”. “I gave my all for this.”

Svitolina beat German Laura Siegemund, Greek Maria Sakkari and Italian Camila Giorgi on her way to the final four.

In the final, Belinda Bencic achieved what the likes of Roger Federer and Martina Hingis could not by becoming a Swiss champion at the Olympics.

The 2019 US Open semifinalist beat Vondrousova 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 in the final.

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