WIMBLEDON, England –
Too nervous to salute, Elena Rybakina stepped into the sunshine of center court ahead of Saturday’s Wimbledon final and maintained a firm double grip on the black and red straps of the slung racket bag.
No wave. Not much looking around. His early play also betrayed some nervousness, which makes sense given this was his debut in a Grand Slam title match.
Almost two hours of big swings and many sprints later, she had won the championship at the All England Club with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Ons Jabeur – the first singles trophy in a major tournament for his adopted country, Kazakhstan.
Even then, Rybakina’s reaction was as muted as possible, a small sigh, a hint of a smile.
“Glad it ended, to be honest,” the 23-year-old said, “because really, I’ve never felt anything like this.”
She was born in Moscow and has represented Kazakhstan since 2018, when the country offered her funding to support her tennis career. The change was a topic of conversation during Wimbledon, as it banned all players who represent Russia or Belarus from entering the tournament due to the war in Ukraine.
Since the start of the WTA computer rankings in 1975, only one woman ranked below No. 23 Rybakina has won Wimbledon – Venus Williams in 2007 at No. 31, although she was No. 1 and had already won three of his five career Wimbledon trophies.
Rybakina used his big serve and powerful forehand to overcome No. 2-ranked Jabeur’s varied style with his mix of spins and slices to end the 27-year-old Tunisian’s 12-game winning streak, which came entirely on grass pitches.
“You have an incredible game, and I don’t think we have anyone like that on tour,” Rybakina told Jabeur at the post-match trophy ceremony, then added this one-liner : “I ran so much today, so I don’t think I need to do more fitness, honestly.”
Jabeur was also participating in his first Grand Slam final.
“She deserved it. I hope the next time will be mine,” said Jabeur, whose exuberance on the pitch and personality off it earned him the nickname ‘Minister of Happiness’.
“Elena stole my title,” Jabeur joked, “but that’s okay.”
By the third game of the match, Jabeur was reading Rybakina’s serves and creating less attractive opportunities for base power. A squash-style forehand drew a forehand into the net to earn a break point, which Jabeur converted to lead 2-1 by fielding a 120mph serve and then watching Rybakina navigate a long backhand.
Jabeur turned to his dressing room, jumped and screamed.
Rybakina’s mistakes multiplied. A volley into the net with the whole court wide open. A forehand scored after Jabeur barely got a short return. When another forehand went wrong, Jabeur broke at love to take the first set, shouted “Yalla!” — Arabic for “Let’s go!” – and threw an uppercut as she headed for the sideline.
Jabeur was trying to become the first Arab or African woman to win a Slam singles title in the professional era, which dates back to 1968.
“I love this tournament so much. I feel really sad. But that’s tennis. There’s only one winner,” Jabeur said. “I’m really happy to try to inspire many generations in my country. I hope they listen.”
Rybakina, who beat Serena Williams at Roland Garros last year, finally got her first break chance to start the second set and took a 1-0 lead when Jabeur missed a forehand. After saving four break points in his next two service games, Rybakina broke again and quickly led 5-1.
Jabeur leads the women’s circuit with 13 straight-set wins this season, but Rybakina came out much stronger in the decision.
She broke once more to start the third and took a 3-1 lead.
Jabeur needed to find a way to cut back on his mistakes and nearly turned things around while losing 3-2 in the third. She leveraged a pair of points she earned via a bunt and a love-40 lob on Rybakina’s serve.
But Rybakina erased that trio of break points and won the match, aided by a few serves at 119 mph. The hold there made it 4-2 and Rybakina quickly broke again. Now she was just one game away from the biggest win of her career – and she had to serve for it.
This match started with a 117 mph ace on Rybakina’s red racket. It ended with Jabeur missing a comeback.
Any apprehension, any discomfort Rybakina felt could disappear. Soon she was stepping over the green wall next to the front row seats to cross the stands for hugs with her coach, sister and others.
Now she was, and forever will be, a Wimbledon champion.