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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, July 9, 2022


Elena Rybakina rallied past second-ranked Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to win Wimbledon and make history as the first Kazakhstan player to win a major singles crown.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Stress cast a shadow at Elena Rybakina facing triple break point midway through the final set.

Calmly confronting crisis, Rybakina clubbed through all challenges to realize a dream.

TN Q & A: Brad Gilbert on Wimbledon

Playing with power and poise, the 23rd-seeded Rybakina rallied past Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the Wimbledon final to make history as the first Kazakhstan player to capture a Grand Slam singles championship.

Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton presented the 23-year-old Rybakina with the Rosewater Dish completing a remarkable rally.

After one set, a reeling Rybakina looked down and out. Rybakina reset, sharpened her serve and began ripping the ball with authority to snap Jabeur’s 11-match winning streak. Rybakina collected her first Grand Slam championship and a champion’s check of $2.4 million.

“It was really tough match, I was super nervous before,” Rybakina told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez afterward. “I hope the day finish so quick. It’s amazing now that everything finished.

"I think in a few days I will just realize what I just did because I know it’s history also for the country. I felt so much support. I’m really, really happy.”

Wimbledon banned Russians and Belarusians this year in condemnation of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. It was the Moscow-born Rybakina, bypassed by Russian tennis officials and who began representing Kazakhstan four years ago for financial support, that stood tall and persevered overcoming all obstacles in a rare finals comeback. Rybakina is the first woman since Amelie Mauresmo in 2006 to win Wimbledon after losing the opening set of the final.

Rybakina, who opened the 2019 season ranked No. 186, was a 100 to 1 long shot before The Championships began. By the end of this day, she was parading around Centre Court raising the gleaming Rosewater Dish.

Tunisian trailblazer Jabeur was the first Arab, first African and first Tunisian woman to contest a Grand Slam final. Ultimately, Jabeur’s in ability to convert break points cost her. Rybakina saved nine of 11 break points, including all seven break points she confronted in the second and third sets.

“Elena played amazing her and her team great job,” Jabeur said in her on-court interview. “I mean she deserved this, hopefully next time it will be mine….

“I love this tournament so much. I feel really sad. It’s tennis there is only one winner. I’m trying to inspire many generations from my country. I hope they’re listening. I also want to thank this beautiful crowd for their support throughout this tournament.”

Grit to fight back from a set down and the guts to keep going for it sparked Rybakina's rally. The weight of her heavy serve—Rybakina averaged 111 mph on her first serve, 12 miles-an-hour faster than Jabeur's average and one mile-an-hour faster than the Tunisian's fastest serve&mdasah;set up first-strike opportunities. When Rybakina was backed into break-point corners, she crushed some of her biggest second serves as well. Though the 6' Kazakh is not nearly as adept in the frontcourt as the clever Jabeur, Rybakina volleyed solidly under pressure winning 16 of 31 trips to the net over the final two sets after winning just one net point in the first set.

Hall of Famers Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis were among the former champions in the royal box that also saw actors Tom Cruise and Maggie Smith in attendance.

The first player from Kazakhstan—male or female—to contest a Grand Slam singles final, Rybakina is the youngest Wimbledon champion since Petra Kvitova in 2011.

Tennis Express

World No. 2 Jabeur drew first blood sliding a slice forehand to draw a forehand error for break point. Blocking back a forehand return, Jabeur elicited an errant backhand breaking with a shout for 2-1.

Versatility and adaptability are Jabeur assets. The multi-talented Tunisian is adept at figuring out what makes you uncomfortable and repeatedly feeding you uncertainty. Jabeur charged through a love hold backing up the break for 3-1.

Knowing she needed to go bigger, Rybakina did exactly that summoning some of her boldest serves to dodge a pair of break points and hold in the fifth game.

The combination of Jabeur’s superior speed around the court and Rybakina’s front-court frailty was evident in the eighth game. Jabeur carved out a drop shot to drag her opponent to net where she didn’t want to be. Reading Rybakina’s reply, Jabeur shoveled a backhand down the line that helped her hold for 5-3.

Winning forehand exchanges, Jabeur elicited successive forehand errors from Rybakina to break and seize the 32-minute opener with a scream of success and a leap of joy.

While Rybakina’s serve stood out at the biggest shot on the court before this final, Jabeur did not face a break point, hit three aces to none for the 6’ power player and made 11 fewer errors in the opening set.

In the last 14 Wimbledon ladies’ finals, the winner of the opening set won the title.

The 23rd-ranked Rybakina needed to respond and did exactly that. Playing with a big more patience, Rybakina drew a netted forehand breaking for the first time to start the second set.

Fifty-five minutes into the match, Rybakina repelled three break points, including firing a pair of forehand approaches in the corner. Rybakina banged a 115 mph serve winner navigating a nine-minute hold—the longest game of the match—for a 3-1 lead.

Frustrated by missed opportunities, Jabeur flung her Wilson racquet high in the sky and caught it before it hit the turf. The Tunisian could not stop her free fall.

While Rybakina was striking with more self-assurance and greater depth, Jabeur’s forehand was flying. A running forehand sailed long as Rybakina snatched the double break and a 4-1 lead.

Completing flipping the script, the Moscow-born Rybakina rolled through 10 of 13 points stretching her advantage to 5-1.

The power player served more to Jabeur's backhand wing and was swinging freely through her first strikes.

"When I played her, like, before, it was never easy to win against her," Jabeur said. "I know she hits a lot of winners. It's very frustrating because sometimes you have a lot of opportunities, but you give her a little bit of space, she does very well.

"I think she's one of the best from the young generation. I don't know how old she is, but she's really young I think. She really plays good.

"I was expecting to do better. But she really deserved that Grand Slam. Maybe because she's shy and she doesn't show her personality. I think her game speaks for her. She's doing an amazing job, and I hope to really see her rising more."

A revitalized Rybakina ripped her second ace out wide ending the second set with a bang to force a third after one hour, 11 minutes.

Dropping four of the last five games, Jabeur needed to answer adversity. The third seed did the right thing drawing Rybakina forward but looked unprepared when the lanky Kazakh blocked a volley breaking to open the final set.

Reading the Jabeur drop shots, Rybakina was quicker off the mark moving forward. Rybakina ripped a clean forehand down the line consolidating for 2-0.

The woman who began her junior career at the famed Spartak Club in Moscow was frozen at net as Jabeur spun a forehand rainbow lob winner for triple break point in the sixth game. Standing tall, Rybakina cranked a crosscourt forehand o save the first, dodged a bullet when Jabeur narrowly missed a forehand drop shot and hit a heavy first strike to save the third break point. Kissing the top of the tape with a volley, Rybakina blocked a forehand volley making an exceptional escape holding for 4-2 with a raised hand.

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Cracking forehands corner to corner, Rybakina coaxed a running error long to earned the insurance break. The 23-year-old would serve for the biggest title of her life at 5-2.

The second seed went up 15-30 but Jabeur could not tame her forehand when it mattered most. A wild diagonal forehand miss brought Rybakina to championship point.

When Jabeur’s final backhand sailed wide, Rybakina, a 100 to 1 long shot to win Wimbledon last month, was Wimbledon champion and barely blinked.

On just her second appearance on Centre Court, Rybakina rose to her first major championship in one hour, 47 minutes.


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