Elena Rybakina wins Wimbledon and her first Grand Slam title

WIMBLEDON, England — Elena Rybakina defeated Ons Jabeur to win the Wimbledon singles title 3-6 6-2 6-2 on Saturday, giving a Russian-born and raised player the most prestigious championship just over two months into the tournament of sport The organizers banned players representing Russia from participating.

Rybakina, who began representing Kazakhstan four years ago after the former Soviet republic agreed to fund her career, overpowered Jabeur, who faltered and succumbed to the inconsistency after taking an early lead.

The 23-year-old Rybakina was nervous and shaky at first, long missing seemingly easy rallies and struggling to get her dangerous first serve on the court, but she calmed down as the match dragged on. Once she found her rhythm, Jabeur had few answers. She even had a chance of a tie in the third set when Rybakina fell 40-0 at 3-2, but Jabeur failed to finish the game and Rybakina drove across the finish line from there.

On the final point, Rybakina watched as world No. 2 Jabeur sent a final backhand return wide and strutted into the net with barely a cheer. A few minutes later, she climbed the stairs to her box to hug her team.

It was Rybakina’s first Grand Slam title and first for a singles player representing Kazakhstan, who over the past 15 years have recruited several men and women from Russia to represent them in tennis and fund their development as part of the effort to make the country better appeal to the West.

It was a match that would never lack story no matter who won.

Jabeur, a 27-year-old Tunisian, was the first Arab and first African to reach the Wimbledon final and the first Arab to make it to a Grand Slam final. She is Muslim and the match fell on Eid al-Adha – the Festival of Sacrifice. The holiday commemorates the story of Allah, who asked Abraham to sacrifice his son as a sign of faith.

There was a time when it seemed like every year on July 4th an American played for this championship. But the sport and its calendar have shifted. With the Wimbledon final taking place a week later, American players and players from every other country, who have dominated tennis for most of the last 100 years, face far greater competition from places where the sport only recently took root caught.

“I’m really sad but it’s tennis. There is only one winner,” Jabeur said while holding the trophy for second place. “I try to inspire many generations for my country.”

Rybakina told Center Court viewers that it was an honor to play in front of the royal box. She also thanked Bulat Utemuratov, the billionaire and President of the Kazakh Tennis Federation, for his faith in her.

“I’ve never felt anything like it,” she said while Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, stood a few feet away. Prince William did not attend the game. Kate was joined on the pitch by Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club and the man responsible for making the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players in April.

Rybakina, the 23rd player in the world, had never progressed past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament this week. Tall and long and powerful with one of the most dangerous serves in the game, she was born in Russia and lived there until she grew up. Her parents still live in Russia.

After turning 18, she jumped at the opportunity to receive money for her tennis career from Kazakhstan. She represented Kazakhstan at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Their run to the final made for an awkward tournament where politics came into play after tournament organizers tried to keep them in check by banning Russian and Belarusian players over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The organizers made the move at the behest of the British government and royal family. Traditionally, the Duchess of Cambridge presents the trophy to the winner of Wimbledon. Few in Britain wanted to see her give it up to a Russian, while Britain is among the leading providers of aid and arms to Ukraine.

On the pitch, Jabeur and Rybakina also promised one of the sport’s ultimate style contrasts. Jabeur’s name is rarely mentioned without being followed by “crafty” a few words later. Your game is filled with almost every type of tennis shot out there.

She can always slice the ball at an angle and with a spin that takes it to the ankle as it clears the net and finds the unguarded area of ​​the court, or hit a forehand over the line. For her, tennis is a profession and a sport, but also a game and a means of expressing her innate creativity.

The question was whether Rybakina would give Jabeur the chance to hit her shots or if the power of her serve and slingshots would knock Jabeur off the court.

Finesse won over power early on. Jabeur took the first blood, forcing a nervous Rybakina to strike from deep in the field. Rybakina fought with her forehand while Jabeur danced across the grass, showing off her arsenal. In game four, she sliced ​​one of her signature slicing backhands past Rybakina, who headed for the net. A game later, she jumped on a second serve and sent a searing forehand that sent Rybakina back.

Jabeur isn’t a fist-pumper, but when she likes a winner she’s just hit, especially one on the move, she jogs across the turf like a basketball player who’s just sunk a three-pointer. She jogged a lot in the first set, which she won when Rybakina sent a forehand into the middle of the net.

However, Jabeur rarely plays full matches, even when heading for a quick afternoon. Especially in pressure situations, it often wobbles, sometimes fatally, and that came early in the second set on Saturday.

Only she knows if the idea of ​​being just one set away from becoming Wimbledon champion suddenly seemed too big. But immediately the ease and consistency she had shown in the first set vanished.

Rybakina broke Jabeur’s serve in the first game of the second set, and Jabeur never really recovered. She tried to lighten the atmosphere, heading a misdirected ball to a ball boy at the end of a game and attempting a shot between the legs while chasing a lob, but she became more erratic the longer the set went on.

Rybakina, meanwhile, shook off her early nervousness. She started firing her first serve. Present, which had sailed long in the beginning, began to dive into the corners and hit the edges of the lines. She charged the net to close points and sealed the set with an ace that Jabeur could only stare at.

The third set brought more of it, even as the crowd roared every time she started a service game, and when she had three chances to level the set down the middle, she desperately tried to lift her up and seat the Duchess in the front row too Let the royal box in pale yellow dress all over Center Court from their starring role in the weirdest post-game trophy ceremony.

But nothing could stop Rybakina at Wimbledon this year: not Jabeur, not the crowd and not even a government decree banning players from Russia from participating.

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