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Wimbledon 2022: Elena Rybakina defeats Ons Jabeur to win first Grand Slam trophy

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Elena Rybakina became the first player representing Kazakhstan to win the Wimbledon trophy after beating third-seeded Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in three sets 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

The two first-time Wimbledon finalists battled back and forth throughout the match, but the 23-year-old Rybakina found her spots throughout the second and third sets to upset the trailblazing 27-year-old Jabeur.

“The crowd was unbelievable and I want to congratulate Ons, you are an inspiration. It was a joy to play against you," Rybakina, the 17 seed, said after the match. “It’s an honor to play here in this unbelievable atmosphere."

Rybakina proved she came to play early when she won the opening game of the first set before she fizzled out and dropped the set to Jabeur, who dominated with her drop sets and play at the net.

Unforced errors plagued Rybakina early as well, but the Kazakhstani adapted well throughout the match. The key to victory for Rybakina was her powerful serve and ability to play Jabeur at the net and defend the Tunisian's drop shots. She's now the youngest tournament champion since Petra Kvitová won in 2011 at the age of 21.

“I didn’t expect to be in the second week. To be a winner is just amazing," Rybakina added. "I wouldn’t be here without my team of course, so I want to say a big thanks to them. And most importantly my parents."

Rybakina's Russian connection

The toughest and most persistent question Rybakina had to answer over the past two weeks was about her nationality. Born and raised in Moscow, she changed her nationality to Kazakhstan in her late teens when their tennis federation offered her more money and citizenship to play for them. She bet on herself and took the chance. She likely never thought that Russian and Belarusian players would be banned from Wimbledon due to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s continuing invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the ban, a born and raised Russian ended up winning the title anyway, emphasizing how pointless and punitive the controversial ban was to begin with. It’s not clear if Rybakina continues to live and train in Moscow, but even if she does, she had the same part in the invasion of Ukraine as absent players Daniil Medvedev, Aryna Sabalenka and Andrey Rublev did: none.

After her semifinal win over Alja Tomljanovic, Rybakina gave what appeared to be her final answer on the matter, regardless of what other questions would come her way.

"I'm playing already for Kazakhstan for a long time," Rybakina said via ESPN. "I'm really happy representing Kazakhstan. They believed in me. There is no more question about how I feel. It's just already long time my journey as a Kazak player. I played Olympics, Fed Cup."

The questions about Rybakina’s ties to Russia have overshadowed her journey to her first Grand Slam win. You have to win eight straight matches to become the Wimbledon champion, and along the way, she dropped just two sets. The first was against Alja Tomljanovic in the quarterfinal, which ended up being her toughest match of the tournament. The second came in the opening set against Jabeur. She smashed through former champion Simona Halep, on a 21-set winning streak at Wimbledon and playing the best tennis she’d played in years, in straight sets.

Halep, was the highest-seeded player at No. 16 that Rybakina, seeded 17th, had faced before Jabeur. And it was easy to see after she beat Halep that she’d be able to handle Jabeur.

Before coming to Wimbledon two weeks ago, Rybakina had two WTA Tour wins under her belt. Now she’ll continue on the tour as a Grand Slam winner, and a force to be reckoned with as her career continues.

 Elena Rybakina became the first Kazakhstani to win Wimbledon. (REUTERS/Hannah Mckay)
Elena Rybakina became the first Kazakhstani to win Wimbledon. (REUTERS/Hannah Mckay)