Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina celebrates hard-won title at Wimbledon

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·3-min read
AFP - DANIEL LEAL
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Elena Rybakina beat Tunisia's Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the Wimbledon final on Saturday to become the first tennis player from Kazakhstan to win a Grand Slam singles championship. It was the first women’s title match since 1962 at the All England Club between two players who were making their debuts in a major final.

Rybakina, who had never previously progressed beyond the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, said she had been "super nervous" before and during the match on a sun-baked Centre Court.

"I did not expect to be in the second week of a Grand Slam at Wimbledon," she said. "To be a winner is just amazing. I don't have the words to say how happy I am."

23-year-old Rybakina was born in Moscow but has represented Kazakhstan since 2018, when that country offered her funding to support her tennis career.

The switch has been a topic of conversation during Wimbledon, because The All England Club barred all players who represent Russia or Belarus from entering the tournament because of the war in Ukraine.

Jabeur, 27, started the match in style, using dropshots and passing shots to great effect as Rybakina's power game failed to fire.

The Tunisian broke in the third game of the match when the Kazakh went long with a backhand.

Rybakina held twice more despite pressure from Jabeur but then produced an error-strewn service game to gift the set to her opponent.

Costly errors

As the Tunisian celebrated with a fist-pump, Rybakina returned to her chair contemplating a costly 17 unforced errors.

But momentum shifted immediately at the start of the second set as Rybakina broke Jabeur before holding for a 2-0 lead.

She had now found her rhythm and Jabeur had to battle hard to stay in touch as the Kazakh repeatedly chased down dropshots and found the touch she needed to hit finely angled winners.

Rybakina, who stands six feet (1.84 metres) tall, then fended off three break points before breaking again to take a 4-1 lead when Jabeur went long with a forehand.

She levelled the match with an ace as Jabeur reflected on four missed break-point opportunities in the set.

Pile on the pressure

The 23rd-ranked Kazakh was first to strike in the decider, breaking straight away to heap the pressure on Jabeur, who failed to rediscover her sharpness from earlier in the match.

The Tunisian squandered three break points in the sixth game as her frustration mounted and that proved to be her last chance.

Rybakina showed a few nerves in serving out for the match but won with her first championship point when Jabeur went long with a backhand.

She ended the day with four aces, taking her total at this year's Wimbledon to a tournament-leading 53, and 29 winners to 33 unforced errors.

Rybakina was asked at her post-match press conference if the Russian government would be tempted to politicise her triumph.

"I'm playing for Kazakhstan very, very long time," she said. "I represent them on the biggest tournaments, Olympics, which was dream come true.

"I don't know what's going to happen. I mean, it's always some news, but I cannot do anything about this."

Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpischev, however, hailed Rybakina's victory as a triumph for Russia, describing the player as "our product".

Leave with a smile

Jabeur, the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final, was attempting to become the first African woman to win a major.

The player, labelled by Tunisians as the "Minister of Happiness", said she had given everything during her run at the All England Club.

"Of course, I will leave happy, with a smile, big smile always," she said. "Tennis is just a sport for me. The most important thing is that I feel good about myself."

(with newswires)

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