Elena Rybakinaa Russian until she changed nationality to Kazakhstan in 2018, became one of the most unlikely women’s Wimbledon champions in history, winning a tournament that banned Russians from playing .
Rybakina joined the Tunisian Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the first Wimbledon women’s final to pit two major finalists against each other for the first time since 1962.
Rybakina, 23, ranked No. 23, became the second lowest-ranked woman to win Wimbledon after Venus Williams, who was No. 31 when she won in 2007. But Williams had already won three Wimbledon titles. Rybakina had never made it past the quarter-finals of a major before this run.
“I was super nervous before the game, during the game and honestly happy it ended,” Rybakina said after receiving the Venus Rosewater Dish trophy from Kate Middletonthe Duchess of Cambridge.
Rybakina didn’t expect to make it past the third round, and it showed in the first set controlled by Jabeur. The Tunisian, known for her range of talents and her game plans, tried to move the powerful Rybakina, especially towards the net. Rybakina finally found her footing, breaking Jabeur to start the second set, and continued that momentum.
“I run so much today that I don’t think I need to do any more fitness,” said the 6ft Rybakina, who committed more unforced errors in the first set (17) than in the second and third combined (16 ).
Rybakina was born and raised in Moscow (and is believed to still reside there), but in 2018 she changed her nationality to Kazakhstan, which offered her more financial support to pursue her tennis career.
When asked on Wednesday whether she felt more Kazakh or Russian, Rybakina said it was a “difficult question”.
“I’m really happy to represent Kazakhstan. They believed in me,” she said Thursday when asked a similar question. “There is no longer any question about how I feel.”
In April, Wimbledon became the first (and so far only) tennis major to ban Russian and Belarusian players during the war in Ukraine. The ban did not extend to players born in Russia who had previously changed nationality to other countries, such as Rybakina and Kazakhstan’s top male singles player, Alexander Bublik.
“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players in the Championships,” the All England Club said. said in a press release then. “We therefore intend, with deep regret, to refuse Russian and Belarusian player registrations for the 2022 Championships.”
The ATP and WTA Tours responded by stripping Wimbledon of ranking points. All the top healthy players showed up anyway.
No Kazakh singles player had made a major semi-final before Rybakina’s run in the past two weeks.
She was a rising star before the pandemic, reaching four finals in her first five WTA tournaments of 2020 and rising to No. 17 in the rankings.
Rybakina did not make a similar leap in 2021, although she beat Serena Williams in a Roland-Garros quarter-final. She lost two medal games at the Olympics and finished the year ranked 14th.
Rybakina opened 2022 by taking second place from world number 1 Ash Barty in an Australian Open tune-up. She had not reached another tournament semi-final this year before her run at Wimbledon.
Jabeur became the first African woman and first Arab or North African man or woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final in the Open Era.
“Elena stole my title, but it’s okay,” said Jabeur, dubbed Tunisia’s “minister of happiness”. “I hope next time will be mine.”
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Elena Rybakina becomes one of Wimbledon’s biggest surprise champions originally appeared on NBCSports.com