In a year when Russian players were banned from Wimbledon, Moscow-born Elena Rybakina rallied from a set down to beat Tunisia’s Ons Jabert 3-6 6-2 6-2 on Saturday to become the first player from Kazakhstan to win a tournament from the Grand Slam singles title.
With Russian and Belarusian players banned from playing on grass following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Rybakina would have been ruled out had she not switched to Russia in 2018 for better funding and support.
But even if the repeated questions about her ties to Russia over the past two weeks took a toll on Rybakina, it had no discernible impact on the 23-year-old’s game.
In a display featuring two first-time Grand Slam finalists for the first time since 1962, the lithe Rybakina lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish after another powerful performance to become the fifth different women’s champion in as many editions.
“It was such a tough match mentally and physically, so in the end I was super happy it ended,” said Rybakina, who became the first woman to win a Wimbledon final from sets since Amelie Mauresmo in 2006.
The cool-as-a-cucumber Rybakina celebrated the win with barely a raised fist and just a fleeting smile in her typical demeanor.
“I have to teach her how to celebrate really well,” a smiling Jaber, who was trying to become the first African woman as well as the first Arab woman to win a major title, later told reporters.
At her press conference, Rybakina promised to show more emotions in the future. But minutes later, she broke down in tears when asked how her parents would react when they met her.
“They’re probably going to be super proud,” Rybakina said before breaking down.
“You wanted to see emotion,” she added, wiping away tears as those in the room burst into laughter before giving her a standing ovation. “I kept it (in) too long.”
Prior to Saturday’s final, Rybakina and Jaber had met three times and each won one match before the Kazakh pulled out due to illness in Chicago in their last match a year ago.
World number two Jabeur also entered the contest riding an 11-match winning streak – all on grass.
Rybakina’s blistering performance was to be a key factor in Saturday’s contest, but it was Jabeur who had less trouble holding her serve in the opening stages on the sun-drenched Center Court.
Jabeur’s knack of mixing things up with heavy slices and drop shots clearly upset Rybakina’s rhythm as the Tunisian hit the first break point in the third game.
Entering the baseline to punish his opponent’s second serve, Jabeur made the most of his pieces during the rallies to slow down the tempo.
Rybakina appeared to lose the plot while trailing 5-3 as she committed four unforced errors – including a double fault to give Jabeur a second break and the opening set in 32 minutes.
“I knew I had that big weapon, I was serving, but it just didn’t work the whole first set. And Ons, she used the serve very well,” said Rybakina, who received the gilded plate from the Duchess of Cambridge.
“I was just thinking that I need these big services right now, because if I don’t, it’s going to be very difficult.”
The match was indeed far from over and Rybakina looked a completely different player for the next 80 minutes.
Her red-rimmed missile suddenly spewed fire as she demonstrated the agility to deal with Jabeur’s dropshots despite her tall frame.
The momentum shifted in her favor as she advanced into the second set with an early break.
Jabeur tried to deal with Rybakina’s power, but her game fell apart instead. Drop shots began to look less clever as Rybakina also reduced her unforced errors.
The Tunisian had three chances to level things up during the long fourth game, but Rybakina held firm and then broke Jabeur in the next game to take a 4-1 lead.
Three games later, the 17th seed hit a 116mph ace to send the contest into a final set.
Rybakina surged ahead in the decider by breaking Jaber in the opening game.
Known at home as the “Minister of Happiness”, Jaber by then appeared a frustrated figure on the court, shouting to herself in anger, although she enjoyed the raucous support of the crowd.
Jabeur got them even more fired up in anticipation of a fightback when she created three break chances in the sixth game, only to be shut out by Rybakina again.
The Kazakhstani won five straight points to win the game and then broke Jabeur again, leaving the Tunisian to bury her face in her towel during the changeover.
Rybakina looked a little nervous as she served for the match, but then sealed the title with her first championship point when Jabeur sent a backhand wide.