Rybakina reigns supreme vs. Jabeur: Where was Ladies’ Wimbledon final won and lost?

Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan celebrates with the trophy after victory against Ons Jabeur of Tunisia during the Ladies' Singles Final match on day...

Despite a sluggish, unflattering start which saw the Kazakh spray a whopping 17 unforced errors and skew makeable shots wide, Elena Rybakina rallied from a set down to earn her first Major title and banish Ons Jabeur’s chances of making more history after a whirlwind fortnight run to the finale for both was concluded last weekend. But how was this final won and lost?

First-time finalist Rybakina rules the roost at SW19

Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan celebrates against Ons Jabeur of Tunisia during the Ladies' Singles Final match on day thirteen of The Championships...

Rybakina celebrates a point during her turnaround victory over Jabeur last Saturday

Rybakina [17] bt. Jabeur [3] 3-6, 6-2, 6-2

  • Rybakina became the first Kazakhstani to win a Major title, and third representing an Asian nation to clinch a Slam after Li Na and Naomi Osaka
  • 23-year-old also made history by becoming the first player to win from a set down in the final since Amelie Mauresmo did so against Justine Henin in 2006
  • Jabeur became first Arab to reach a Major singles final, first African in the Open Era, and first non-South African representative in that regard — this the first final since 2009 (Serena Williams bt. older sister Venus) both finalists represented non-European nations

Tunisian third seed Ons Jabeur led 6-3 and was, at multiple stages over the next two sets, just four games – 16 points – away from achieving a career-best result at this year’s Wimbledon.

Points like these reinforce the fact she started well, playing with renewed vigour, energy and importantly used the slice to devastating effect, stopping Rybakina from getting into a groove:

However, tennis can be such a temperamental sport at the best of times. Rybakina showed flashes of defiance with her power, but was also missing some easy shots herself early on:

Jabeur took the first set after 33 minutes but wasn’t as comfortable as the scoreline suggested.

Instead, her level dipped at a crucial time to start the second set, coinciding with a refreshingly ruthless Rybakina response to going a set behind for the second time in three matches.

Just like against Ajla Tomljanovic in the quarter-finals, the 23-year-old stayed even-keeled as adversity arose and importantly applied pressure back on Jabeur from the early exchanges after their brief break between sets, who many critics expected would get this far pre-tournament.

Rybakina was just unstoppable at times as she got back into things

Rybakina, as she reaffirmed during her pre-final press conference, had self-belief in her qualities but understandably didn’t think she’d go on such a deep run at SW19 this year.

She lost in R4 here to eventual semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka twelve months ago, and could be forgiven for feeling pessimistic after defeats by lesser-ranked opposition: Shelby Rogers (Hertogenbosch) and Lesia Tsurenko (Eastbourne) in the warm-up events before this fortnight.

Elena ousted 2019 US Open titlist Bianca Andreescu, newly-crowned Lausanne champion Petra Martic and two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep among others just to get into Saturday’s showpiece event. The 17th seed had nothing to lose but plenty to gain last weekend.

So while it’s natural to suggest Jabeur folded when the moment was at its peak, Rybakina’s powerful play and relentlessness was energy-sapping and that approach – rather than getting flustered – was key during the middle of a third set both could’ve seized for a 10-minute spell.

Jabeur won’t want to see these clips anytime soon

As she said herself afterwards, Jabeur fashioned ample break point opportunities (0 of 7 converted in sets 2-3, compared to 2/4 in first set) but equally Rybakina played them well and utilised her hard-hitting serve to help keep her at an arm’s length whenever things got tight.

Analysis, what’s next for both? 

Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur talking to journalists after her return to the capital Tunis from Wimbeldon, on July 13, 2022. Hailing her as the...

Jabeur talking to an assembled crowd of journalists on her return to Tunisia earlier this week

The buzzword for Jabeur during her post-match press conference was a sense of perspective, this being her first Major final after all. At 27, she’s not the oldest nor youngest in the WTA’s top 10 at present and has developed consistency considerably over recent seasons.

When it comes to the biggest matches though, experiences like these should come in handy.

As time passes and more of these opportunities arise, Ons cannot afford for them to resemble scar tissue if she’s to achieve the big dreams she has, like the Rosewater Dish phone lockscreen she showed journalists as proof of just how much she wanted to win this year’s tournament.

“This was a great first experience for me, I’m looking forward to my next finals, just have to keep my head high. I didn’t play my best tennis in sets 2-3, she played more aggressive and unfortunately I couldn’t find a solution.

It wasn’t meant to be. I know I’ll come back and win a Grand Slam for sure, this is tennis and I have to learn from it, this is just the beginning.

I wanted this title really bad but I’m really trying to stay positive … continue, get more titles, that’s what I want.”

  • Jabeur in reflective mood during her post-match press conference

She confirmed she’ll start the US swing in San Jose, a WTA 500 event, which kicks off the week beginning August 1, no doubt eager to improve upon a string of three consecutive third-round defeats at the year’s final Major tournament (Karolina Pliskova, Sofia Kenin and Elise Mertens).

The 23-year-old met with juniors from in four of Kazakhstan's major cities during her Wimbledon trophy tour.

Rybakina meets juniors from four of Kazakhstan’s major cities in her trophy tour (Picture: tennis.com)

Rybakina couldn’t handle the Jabeur slice early, but as she found her rhythm, losing the first set proved a blessing in disguise as the tension within her lessened and she could flow more freely.

Reading the Tunisian’s shot selection more quickly and efficiently caused panic within Jabeur, as her arsenal was being tested and she couldn’t adjust quickly enough to arrest the slide.

Those three break point chances, down 3-2 in the decider, came and went. After that, it was plain sailing for the world no. 23, who will probably benefit from the controversial decision as there – in theory – isn’t added pressure of having to justify such a rankings bump in the months to come.

The world’s rankings were frozen during her most recent surge two years ago, COVID-enforced, while the same could be said for a fourth-placed finish at the Tokyo Olympics last summer too.

She’s a shy, hard-to-read player on court and prefers to let her tennis do the talking, something that works while the air of mystique leaves critics naturally wanting more emotion.

It’ll be interesting to see whether she can immediately build on this success, considering there are only two younger Slam champions ahead of her in the rankings: record pacesetter Iga Swiatek [#1] and a familiar foe in British teenager Emma Raducanu, at a career-high #10.

Picture source: Getty Images

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