ELENA IS SW19’S KAZ-A-GO HERO!
ELENA RYBAKINA made her way to the net with a little fist pump, a puff of the cheeks and barely a smile – looking more like someone who’d just beaten a pal on a public court than a first-time Grand Slam winner.
Yet the Russian-born 23-year-old, representing Kazakhstan, had seconds earlier secured the biggest win of her career after coming from behind to beat Ons
Jabeur 3-6 6-2 6-2 — and trousered a £2million cheque for her efforts.
“Someone tell her she won this thing,” quipped John McEnroe on the BBC, as Rybakina waved politely to the cheering Centre Court crowd.
It was as understated a celebration as you’ll see in the moment of victory from a Wimbledon champion.
But, as she explained later, there will be plenty of smiles and probably a few tears, when her achievement finally sinks in.
“It’s so unexpected, these two weeks, what happened,” Rybakina said. “It was such a tough match mentally and physically, so in the end I was just super-happy that it finished.
“In the moment, I just didn’t believe that I made it, but for sure I’m going to celebrate with my team, with my friends and my family.
“When I was giving the speech, in the end I was thinking, ‘I’m going to cry right now’, but somehow I held it together.
“Maybe later, when I’m going to be alone in the room, I’m going to cry non-stop. I don’t know.”
It took a question about Rybakina’s parents, and what their reaction will be, for the emotion to show.
“Probably they’re going to be super-proud,” she said, tearing up. “You wanted to see emotion,” she added, laughing. “I kept it in too long.”
Moments earlier, Rybakina had faced uneasy questions about her citizenship, given that the Moscow-born player had just won a tournament from which Russian and Belarusian players were banned.
“I can only say that I’m representing Kazakhstan,” she said. “I didn’t choose where I was born.”
It is a shame for her that her win will inevitably be politicised. And you can only imagine there were howls of laughter inside the Kremlin as pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge handing over the Venus Rosewater Dish zipped around the world in what was a major public relations embarrassment for Wimbledon and the Royal Family.
Rybakina thoroughly merited her win, holding her nerve and getting to grips with Jabeur’s game after a difficult first set.
Jabeur (above) was excellent and looked like she would go on to achieve her dream of becoming the first Arab player to win a Grand Slam title.
Credit Rybakina, though, who got to grips with the Tunisian’s game and fought back with the powerful brand of tennis which had seen her march into the final.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” said Jabeur. “I don’t regret anything, I gave it my all.”
Jabeur has helped light up the tournament with her personality and her tennis, and was charming as ever in defeat.
“Elena is one of the best from the young generation, she really plays well,” she said. “I’m going to have to teach her how to celebrate really good!”