Russian-born Elena Rybakina won Wimbledon title on Saturday, denying Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur the chance to make African tennis history.
Jabeur raced out of the blocks but the 17th seed regrouped and dropped just four more games after the first set on the way to a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory.
Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon this year following the invasion of Ukraine.
"They would be super proud" 😊
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 9, 2022
But Moscow-born Rybakina was able to play as she had switched her allegiance to Kazakhstan in 2018.
The 23-year-old, who had never previously progressed beyond the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, said she had been “super nervous” before and during the match on a sun-baked Centre Court.
“I did not expect to be in the second week of a Grand Slam at Wimbledon,” she said. “To be a winner is just amazing. I don’t have the words to say how happy I am.”
Rybakina was asked at her post-match press conference if the Russian government would be tempted to politicise her triumph.
“I’m playing for Kazakhstan very, very long time,” she said. “I represent them on the biggest tournaments, Olympics, which was dream come true.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, it’s always some news, but I cannot do anything about this.”
Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpischev, however, hailed Rybakina’s victory as a triumph for Russia, describing the player as “our product”.
“It’s very nice! Well done Rybakina! We win the Wimbledon tournament,” Tarpischev was quoted as saying by Russian news agency, Ria Novosti.
Jabeur, the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final, was attempting to become the first African woman to win a major.
What a ride! 🙌
Thank you to everyone who supported me since day 1 of this journey: my parents, my husband, my coach and my team. Without you, this would not have been possible at all. I love you all so much #TeamOJ 🇹🇳❤️ pic.twitter.com/DThgYjSzZ5
— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) July 9, 2022
The player, labelled by Tunisians as the “Minister of Happiness”, said she had given everything during her run at the All England Club.
“Of course, I will leave happy, with a smile, big smile always,” she said. “Tennis is just a sport for me. The most important thing is that I feel good about myself.”