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

LONDON – Even Elena Rybakina didn’t expect to win Wimbledon this year. She didn’t even see each other for the second week.

She knew she’d worked hard and had long dreams for herself, but she wasn’t happy with her preparation for the tournament and has been struggling with injuries lately. Rybakina, 23, didn’t have many expectations of herself when she first started playing in the tournament.

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

After the final point was won when Jabeur’s backhand sailed wide, the normally reserved Rybakina puffed out her cheeks and shook her head in apparent disbelief. She only smiled after shaking hands with Jabeur and the chair umpire.

“I’m actually speechless,” Rybakina said shortly afterwards in court. “To be a winner is just amazing, I have no words to say how happy I am.”

How did Rybakina win on Saturday and what does that mean for her future? Here are our main takeaways.

that serves

At the start of the match, Rybakina led the tournament with 49 aces – 19 more than any other woman – and averaged 8.2 per match. Not to mention that she had the second fastest serve speed among women at a staggering 122 mph (just behind Coco Gauff’s 124 mph). It had been a dominant and almost unstoppable advantage for Rybakina over the two weeks. But in Saturday’s opening set, Jabeur neutralized it completely – and Rybakina failed to secure an ace for the first set of the entire tournament.

But this slump in dominance didn’t last. Rybakina rediscovered her serve – and her form and all-around level – in set number two. In the final game of the set, she won every point of her serve and sealed the set with an ace. Ultimately, she had four aces that day, including one that hit 117 mph in the final game of the game and perhaps most impressively, that was it not broken again.

fighting spirit

Never one to show much emotion on the pitch, Rybakina remained calm and composed despite not having the crowd on her side and Jabeur’s early control. If she was troubled, it never showed. Returning to the court for the second set looking like a new player – with a reply to everything Jabeur sent her.

It was a stunning turnaround and she never gave Jabeur a chance to get back in the match, almost completely silencing the crowd in the process. The unflappable Rybakina never yelled “Come on” or “Let’s go” or even showed the hint of a smile and seemed clinically focused on the next point.

While Jabeur made a few follow-up errors on the track, Rybakina never took his foot off the accelerator.

The historian

Currently ranked 23rd, Rybakina became the first woman to win at Wimbledon outside of the WTA top 20 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 lift the title since Petra Kvitova in 2011.

Rybakina was already the first Kazakhstan player to reach a grand final, but now she’s also the first to take home the trophy. While the achievement is monumental for the Central Asian nation, Rybakina’s nationality has come under scrutiny over the past two weeks. Born and raised in Russia, she switched federations – Kazakhstan was formerly part of the Soviet Union and sits on the Russian border – in 2018 to get additional funding for her career.

With Russian and Belarusian players banned from attending Wimbledon this year due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Rybakina has been repeatedly asked about her loyalty and current ties to her home country. While she has downplayed her connection to Russia and said she is “really happy” to represent Kazakhstan, it is believed she still lives mostly in Moscow and this added a layer of intrigue to the trophy presentation.

However, in front of the crowd and the glaring cameras, both Rybakina and the Duchess of Cambridge with the Venus Rosewater Dish were all smiling and friendly.

The future is bright

Despite the milestone victory – and the collection of a $2.4 million paycheck – Rybakina will not see her efforts rewarded in the leaderboard. With WTA Wimbledon stripping ranking points due to the ban on Russian and Belarusian players, Rybakina will remain ranked 23rd on Monday. At any other major, Rybakina would have earned another 2,000 points and cracked the top 10 for the first time in her career.

Still, Rybakina is now entering the hard-court portion of the season as a Grand Slam winner and will look to improve on her career-best third-round performance at the US Open. She had previously won one of her two pre-Wimbledon titles on the surface (Hobart 2020) and now, with momentum and confidence on her side, she could find even more success.

https://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/34216615/wimbledon-2022-tournament-unexpected-elena-rybakina-champion Wimbledon 2022 – In a tournament of the unexpected, Elena Rybakina is a champion

Emma Bowman

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