Saturday, July 9, 2022

Elena Rybakina serves big, stays cool, and wins the 2022 Wimbledon singles title

Ons Jabeur, seeded third at Wimbledon, came in as somewhat of a favorite in today's women's singles final match. She had played some of her very best tennis throughout the event, and it looked as though the time very well had come for her to win a very big title.

But then there was 17th seed Elena Rybakina, who stormed through the tour a couple of years ago with great promise She had won two singles titles, and was the runner-up in six (including Dubai), which is both impressive and troubling at the same time, depending on how you look at it. It hasn't been easy for Rybakina; the Covid crisis interrupted her momentum, as did illness and injury. But on the lawns of Wimbledon, it was as if she had closed an uncomfortable chapter and was returning to the heart of the story.

Jabeur, for her part, has worked steadily to fix the gaps in her game, and to further showcase her many strengths. 

The match was promoted as a contrast in styles, which--to a great extent--it was. Jabeur is the WTA's trickster, giving us the kind of pleasure we used to get from watching a Radwanska or a Schnyder. But she also has a really good serve, which makes her a threat on many fronts. Rybakina, the tour's ace leader, is known for her big serve and big groundstrokes.

In the first set, Jabeur was able to use her considerable bag of tricks to wrong-foot her opponent, or to catch her in a vulnerable court position. She won that set 6-3, and looked to be on track to perhaps pull off a straight-set victory. But things changed in the second set. Rybakina caught on to Jabeur's strategies, most obviously, the drop shots. She began to read Jabeur better, and she also decided to emulate Jabeur in moving to the net more. As a matter of fact, Rybakina wound up going to the net more than twice as often as her opponent.

Rybakina also varied her serve more in the second set, and she made a point of attacking Jabeur's backhand. Rybakina took that set 6-2, and while many fans were no doubt expecting an exciting and close third set, the tall, 23-year-old Kazakhstani player didn't let up. Both Rybakina and Jabeur are known to have frustrating mental lapses at big moments, but in this match, it was Jabeur who became frustrated while Rybakina held it together. 

Rybankina's 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory makes her the first player from Kazakhstan to win a major singles title, and the youngest woman to win Wmbledon since Petra Kvitova did it at age 21 in 2011. Jabeur is the only Arab player to ever reach the final of a major.

Rybakina surprised some by her very low-key reaction to winning--no falling to the knees, no jumping in the air, no screaming--just a raise of the racket and a faint smile. I may have to take Pliskova's "Tall Cool One" nickname and give it to the new Wimbledon champion. (It also apparently upset some people because--why should a player be allowed to possess her authentic personality?)

The potential has been there for a few years, and it shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that Rybakina overcame several obstacles and did something really big. It's also no surprise that Jabeur reached the Wimbledon final. Both players appear to have bright futures.

In other big news today, Diede De Groot (aka Diede the Great) won her seventh straight singles major and her fourth Wimbledon title. Top seed De Groot defeated 2nd seed Yui Kamiji 6-4, 6-2 to win the women's wheelchair singles title.

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