With the title of Wimbledon, Elena Rybakina finally smiles

Wimbledon, England. Elena Rybakina’s surprise run to the Wimbledon title, full of stunning innings, timely winners and an underrated defense, was the epitome of brutal beauty.

The poker face is firmly in place, Rybakina, a 6-foot tower of power, knocked out rising stars such as Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen, former Grand Slam champions such as Bianca Andreescu and Simona Halep, and was ranked No. 1 in Saturday’s final. 2 player in world, Ons Jaber.

But as impressive as it was, it was clear that this was not the result that most of those in the crowd or on the payrolls of the All England Club were aiming for.

All the times were wrong, even if the 23-year-old Rybakina timed from the baseline often perfectly.

You could feel the hype on Center Court, where the residents roared for Zhaber from the very beginning, but politely greeted Rybakina and her victory, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

You could feel the disappointment on the Wimbledon players’ green, where tennis officials and a large group of Jabeur fans dressed without a title to celebrate were well aware of the storyline that could be.

Nicknamed by Tunisians as the Minister of Happiness, Jaber is not only a sympathetic figure, but deeply symbolic as an Arab and African woman succeeds at the highest levels of a sport that aims to become truly global.

Rybakina, who finished 23rd, plays for the vast and sparsely populated Kazakhstan, but has never lived there for long. She is Russian, born, raised and lived until this year in Moscow, where her parents and many of her closest friends still live.

Wimbledon once honored another tall blond rookie from Russia when Maria Sharapova wins title unexpectedly in 2004 at the age of 17. But Rybakina’s arrival comes at an awkward moment for those with ties to Russia. Tournament banned all Russian and Belarusian players (and journalists) this year because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The move came after pressure from the British government, led by outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had a much worse weekend than Jabert’s. But the ban was also introduced in order to deprive Russia and its leadership of the opportunity to use any Russian success in the tournament for propaganda purposes.

Rybakina, who began representing Kazakhstan in 2018, was asked if her home country would try to politicize her victory.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I have been playing for Kazakhstan for a very, very long time. I represent him at the biggest tournaments, the Olympics, which is a dream come true. I don’t know what will happen. I mean, it’s always some kind of news, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

This is definitely true. After all, Wimbledon does not allow players who represent Russia, not players who used to represent Russia. And while Shamil Tarpishchev, longtime president of the Russian Tennis Federation, told one Russian state media outlet Saturday night that “we won Wimbledon,” that certainly sounds farfetched. How do you convincingly present Rybakina’s success as a flashy and brilliant story of Russian triumph, when it was the lack of Russian support for her career that ultimately caused her to switch sides?

Rybakina referred to mediocre English because she did not understand the question of whether she condemned the war, and never answered it. But she has made her commitment to tennis clear.

“I didn’t choose where I was born,” she said. “People believed in me. Kazakhstan has been very supportive of me. Even today I heard so much support. I have seen the flags, so I don’t know how to answer these questions.”

She is hardly the first tennis player to receive funding and amenities and decide to represent another country. (There were many importers in Britain, including former Canadian star Greg Rusedski and former Australian Joanna Konta.)

Rybakina is perhaps the first Russian tennis player to receive funding and amenities and decide to represent Kazakhstan. Yaroslava Shvedova switched in 2008 and later won the Wimbledon Women’s Doubles title and also became the only Open Era player to complete the so-called golden set at a Grand Slam tournament, winning all 24 points in the first set against Sara Errani in a third round victory. 6-0, 6-4, at Wimbledon.

“It was good for my career,” Shvedova said of the switch. “When I was in Russia, I was at the top of the rankings. 10th player, but when I moved to Kazakhstan I was #1. 1 player. I get goosebumps when I think about it, but I knew I had to do good and work hard because I was the leader and everyone was looking at me.”

Shvedova, 34, has retired and is developing players in Kazakhstan. On Saturday, she was at Wimbledon to support Rybakin. Like Bulat Utemuratov, billionaire, president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation.

“Honestly, we have always been outsiders, whoever came from Eastern Europe,” said Stefano Vukov, Rybakina’s Croatian coach. “We always had to fight windmills to break through. It is not as easy as for other federations from other countries. Thank God, the Kazakh federation supports her.”

Vukov said he and Rybakina knew that the further she advanced at Wimbledon, the more her Russian roots would emerge. But he said she didn’t feel the added burden.

“Not exactly because we had the same problems when she moved to Kazakhstan to play for them,” he said. “The Russians were absolutely wondering why, why, why. So flip it, it’s the same story, just in a different shape. She’s already been through it.”

Winning at Wimbledon for the first time definitely seemed like a common thing for Rybakina. At first it seemed that it almost did not register.

After receiving a match point, she slightly clenched her left fist, wiped her mouth with her bracelet, exhaled, and leisurely walked to the net to shake hands with the fallen Frog, and then waved to the crowd with the same insistence as Queen Elizabeth waved. at the window of his car.

“I need to teach her how to celebrate,” Jaber said.

But it is not surprising that Rybakina’s feelings were simply classified, and a couple of hours after she posed with a plate of Venus Rosewater, handed to the champion, she was asked at a press conference how her parents might react to her. victory when she finally got the chance to talk to them.

Rybakina has not seen them for months and has been nomadic since the beginning of the war, not returning to Russia since February.

“They will probably be very proud,” she said of her parents, starting to cry.

“You wanted to see emotions,” she said, trying to regain her composure. “Kept too long.”

It was a poignant moment, more touching, to be honest, than anything that happened on Saturday on Center Court, the Shakespearean scene of so many breakthroughs and breakdowns over the decades, including Jana Novotna crying on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent after hitting the lead against Steffi Graf in the 1993 final. of the year.

The story is, all those ghosts on the grass can hit the player hard when they try to join the club. But Rybakina, only at her second Wimbledon and her first Grand Slam singles final, handled it with aplomb. By Saturday night she was already wearing her purple badge as a new member of the All England Club. Her victory may not have been convenient for all concerned. (Kazakhstanis would, of course, disagree.) But it was still a triumph: the result of hard choices and personal sacrifice, a reshaped service movement that unleashed all that elastic power, and the composure of a pressurized shooter that produced so many winners for just the right moments on the big stage that fit her big game so well.