Wimbledon Champion Rybakina Was A Quiet Winner

Elena Rybakina (photo: Wimbledon video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, July 12, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Elena Rybakina presented herself as a stoic figure throughout the Wimbledon Championships fortnight. When she defeated Tunisia’s “Minister of Happiness,” Ons Jabeur, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, on Centre Court Saturday afternoon to win the Venus Rosewater Dish, presented to the women’s singles champion, it completed an unexpected finish.

Rybakina continued a trend of non-repeat winners at Wimbledon. Going back to 2016, the last six champions have all been different.

Coming into the Championships, Rybakina was 1-2 on grass – still searching for her true form – and faced a very tough draw ahead of her. However, one only had to look back to before the pandemic, when she reached four finals in six events at the beginning of the 2020 season, to know that Rybakina showed a lot of break-out potential. She possessed a steely composure to go with her on-court skill set. Both served her well in difficult situations.

Fast forward, the six-foot Rybakina (six inches taller than Jabeur) won Wimbledon with her booming serve and powerful ground strokes. They provided a nice and effective 1-2 punch. During her two-week residency at the All England Club, Rybakina brushed aside Coco Vandeweghe, Bianca Andreescu, Zheng Qinwen, Petra Martic, Ajla Tomljanovic, and 2019 Wimbledon champion and this year’s No. 16 seed Simona Halep to reach the final against the third-seeded Jabeur. Indeed, Rybakina had mastered the draw she was handed.

In the final, Rybakina hit 29 winners and struck 53 aces during the tournament, most of any woman.

Upon securing match point against the World No. 2 Jabeur, the No. 17 seed Rybakina reacted in hushed tones. There was nary a fist pump and, certainly, there was no dramatic dropping to the ground like Roger Federer or Bjorn Borg. Instead, just a little bit of a smile could be observed – but you had to look fast. The 23-year-old accepted her prize with a quiet, calming voice in front of 15,000 appreciative spectators that filled Centre Court.

When the Duchess of Cambridge, the All England patron, presented Rybakina with the Venus Rosewater Dish, suddenly, it began to sink in that she – and not Jabeur, who was the favorite to win and make history after already becoming the first Tunisian, first African woman and first Arab woman to appear in a Grand Slam final – was the 2022 women’s champion. The crowd applauded loudly for Rybakina when she held her prize aloft for the first time.

Rybakina’s title success comes 10 years after Serena Williams won her fifth Wimbledon title in 2012, 25 years after Martina Hingis was a breakthrough titlist in 1997, and 50 years after Billie Jean King won the second of four Open Era Wimbledon crowns in 1972. Both King and Hingis sat in the Royal Box to witness Rybakina’s triumph.

“I’m actually speechless,” Rybakina said on court during her interview with the BBC presenter Sue Barker.

Much to her own surprise, Rybakina won her first Grand Slam title, in her first major final, and she became the first player representing Kazakhstan – woman or man – to achieve this feat. Back in 2018, Rybakina changed her tennis nationality from Russia, her country of birth, to Kazakhstan, the former Soviet republic in Central Asia. Why? Because it was willing to offer her sufficient financial support that Russia was not. Indeed, it was a historic day to celebrate.

At World No. 23, Rybakina became the fourth lowest-ranked Wimbledon finalist since the introduction of the WTA computer rankings in 1975. Also, at age 23, she became the youngest Wimbledon women’s champion in 11 years, since Petra Kvitova won in 2011. All of this happened in just Rybakina’s second Wimbledon appearance after reaching the fourth round last year.

“It’s so unexpectable these two weeks, what happened,” Rybakina recalled during her post-match news conference. “It was such a tough match mentally and physically, so in the end I was just supper happy that it finished. In this moment, I just didn’t believe that I made it.

“I didn’t know what to do. It was shocking. I don’t know, maybe because I believe that I can do it deep inside. But same time it’s, like, too many emotions. I was just trying to keep myself calm.

“Maybe, one day you will see huge reaction from me, but unfortunately not today.”

Eventually, Rybakina, who still resides in Moscow, was asked by a reporter how her parents in Russia might react to her Wimbledon title success.

“Probably they’re going to be super proud,” Rybakina said. Then she began to cry. It was perfectly understandable.

“You wanted to see emotion,” Rybakina quipped. It drew laugher in the interview room.

Meanwhile, Jabeur said it was “nice to play Elena, to be honest with you.

“Even when you lose against her, she didn’t do any big celebration or anything,” she said. “I need to teach her how to celebrate really good. … I think her game speaks for her.”

By the numbers

• With Elena Rybakina and Ons Jabeur, two players in their first major finals, playing for the Wimbledon women’s singles title, it ensured a 14thdifferent champion and 13th different nationality of champion in the 21 Grand Slam tournaments since Serena Williams last won one at the 2017 Australian Open.

• Kazakhstan became just the 12th country to have a Wimbledon women’s champion. The others are: the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Australia, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Spain, Switzerland, Russia and Romania.

“Quotable …”

“I was super nervous. [Friday] I had a good practice. But in the evening, I already started to feel like I’m too nervous. In the morning also.

“Not going to lie. [Saturday] I was too stressed out. I think I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should maybe. I enjoyed the semifinal more. I don’t know why. I played also very well that match.

“I’m going to enjoy for sure maybe [Sunday], maybe when everything is going to be calm.”

Elena Rybakina, 2022 Wimbledon women’s singles champion, from her post-match news conference.