Wimbledon 2022 – In a tournament of the unexpected, Elena Rybakina is champion

LONDON – Even Elena Rybakina didn’t expect to win Wimbledon this year. She couldn’t even see herself reaching the second week.

She knew she had worked hard and had long-term dreams for herself, but she was unhappy with her pre-tournament preparation and had recently struggled with injuries. Rybakina, 23, didn’t have high expectations of herself when she started playing in the tournament.

But game after game, against opponents like Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu, both former great champions, Rybakina proved to herself what she was capable of. And on Saturday, Rybakina stunned the world – and even herself – with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Ons Jabeur on center court for the first major title of her career.

After the final point was won as Jabeur’s backhand sailed out of bounds, the normally reserved Rybakina puffed out her cheeks and shook her head, seemingly in disbelief. She only smiles after shaking hands with Jabeur and the chair umpire.

“I’m actually speechless,” Rybakina said moments later. “To be a winner is just amazing, I don’t have the words to say how happy I am.”

How did Rybakina win on Saturday and what does it mean for her going forward? Here are our main takeaways.

Who serves

Going into the match, Rybakina had 49 tournament-leading aces – 19 more than any other woman – and an average of 8.2 per game. Not to mention, she had the second-fastest serve speed among women at 122mph (behind only Coco Gauff’s 124mph). It had been a dominant and almost unstoppable asset for Rybakina during the fortnight. But in the first set on Saturday, Jabeur completely neutralized him – and Rybakina failed to register an ace for the first set of the entire tournament.

But this decline in dominance did not last. Rybakina rediscovered her serve – and her form, and her general level – in the second set. In the last game of the set, she won all the points on her serve and sealed the set with an ace. In the end, she had four aces that day, one of which hit 117 mph in the last game of the match, and perhaps most impressively, was not broken again.

fighting spirit

Never one to show much emotion on the court, Rybakina remained calm and collected despite the absence of the crowd at her side and early control from Jabeur. If she was confused, it never showed. When she returned to the court for the second set, she looked like a new player – with an answer to everything Jabeur had thrown at her.

It was a stunning turnaround, and she never gave Jabeur a chance to get back into the game and almost completely silenced the crowd in the process. The unflappable Rybakina never shouted “come on” or “let’s go”, or even offered a hint of a smile, and seemed clinically focused on the next point.

While Jabeur made a number of consecutive errors on the stretch, Rybakina never took her foot off the accelerator.

The story maker

Currently ranked No. 23, Rybakina became the first woman ranked outside the WTA top 20 to win at Wimbledon since Venus Williams in 2007. And she became the first woman to win at the All England Club after losing the first set since Amelie Mauresmo in 2006, and the youngest woman to win the title since Petra Kvitova in 2011.

Rybakina was already the first player representing Kazakhstan to reach a major final, but she is now also the first to win the trophy. While the achievement is monumental for the Central Asian nation, Rybakina’s nationality has come under intense scrutiny over the past two weeks. Born and raised in Russia, she switched federations in 2018 – Kazakhstan was once part of the Soviet Union and borders Russia – in order to secure additional funding for her career.

As Russian and Belarusian players have been banned from attending Wimbledon this year due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Rybakina has been repeatedly asked about her allegiances and current ties to her home country. Although she played down her connection to Russia and said she was ‘really happy’ to represent Kazakhstan, she is believed to still primarily reside in Moscow and it added a layer of intrigue to the trophy presentation .

However, in front of the crowds and the bright reflections of the cameras, Rybakina and the Duchess of Cambridge were all smiles and banter with the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Asked – again – about her ties to Russia during her press conference on Sunday, Rybakina tried to end the conversation once and for all.

“From my side, I can only say that I represent Kazakhstan,” she said. “I didn’t choose where I was born.”

The future is bright

Despite the decisive win – and collecting a $2.4 million paycheck – Rybakina will not see his efforts rewarded in the standings. With the WTA depriving Wimbledon of ranking points due to the banning of Russian and Belarusian players, Rybakina will remain in 23rd place in the rankings on Monday. During any other major, Rybakina would have earned an additional 2,000 points and cracked the top 10 for the first time in her career.

Still, Rybakina now enters the tough part of the season as a Grand Slam winner and will be looking to improve on her career-best third-round appearance at the US Open. She had already won one of her two titles before Wimbledon on the surface (in Hobart in 2020), and now, with momentum and confidence on her side, she could have even more success.

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