LONDON: Elena Rybakina has won the women’s title at Wimbledon by beating Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Jabeur had become the first Arab and African woman to reach a Grand Slam final.
Rybakina is a 23-year-old who was born in Moscow and has represented Kazakhstan since 2018, when that country offered her funding to support her tennis career. The switch has been a topic of conversation during Wimbledon, because The All England Club barred all players who represent Russia or Belarus from entering the tournament because of the war in Ukraine.
She had never got past the quarter-finals of a Slam before this year’s Wimbledon.
This was the first women’s title match since 1962 at the All England Club between two players who were making their debuts in a major final.
Rybakina is ranked No. 23. Since the WTA computer rankings began in 1975, just one woman ranked lower than Rybakina won Wimbledon — Venus Williams in 2007 at No. 31, although she previously had been No. 1 and already won three of her five career trophies at the All England Club.
Rybakina used her big serve and powerful forehand to overcome Jabeur’s mix of spins and slices at Centre Court on Saturday. Rybakina ended Jabeur’s 12-match winning streak, which came entirely on grass courts.
“I never felt anything like this before,” said the champion. “Congratulations to Ons for everything you have achieved.
“You are an inspiration to Tunisians and everybody. You played a great match.”
Jabeur congratulated the winner, saying: “Hopefully next time it will be mine.”
She continued: “Thanks to my team for support and believing in me,” she said. “I love this tournament. I feel sad but that’s tennis — there can only be one winner.”
Jabeur, 27, started in style, breaking Rybakina in the third game of the match when the Kazakh went long with a backhand.
She followed that with a hold to love that included a delicious backhand pass angled past her opponent at the net.
Rybakina was under intense pressure on her own serve again as the set threatened to run away from her but she dug deep to hold for 3-2.
But she failed to force a single break point on the sun-baked Center Court in the first set and an error-strewn service game gifted the set to Jabeur.
As Jabeur celebrated with a fist-pump, Rybakina returned to her chair contemplating a costly 17 unforced errors.
But momentum shifted immediately at the start of the second set as Rybakina broke Jabeur before holding for a 2-0 lead.
Rybakina had now found her rhythm and Jabeur had to battle hard to hold to stay in touch.
She then fended off three break points before breaking again to take a 4-1 lead when Jabeur went long with a forehand.
Rybakina levelled the match with an ace as Jabeur reflected on four missed break-point opportunities in the set.
The 17th seed was first to strike in the decider, breaking straight away to heap the pressure on Jabeur.
The Tunisian squandered three break points in the sixth game as her frustration mounted and that proved to be her last chance.
Rybakina showed a few nerves in serving out for the set but won with her first championship point when Jabeur went long with a backhand.
* With AFP and AP