Rybakina beats Halep in final and gives Wimbledon a headache | Wimbledon 2022

With a display of power tennis that left the Center Court gasping, Elena Rybakina reached her first grand slam final with a staggering 6-3, 6-3 victory over Simona Halep. But now the 23-year-old has given Wimbledon a threatening headache.

When the All England Club decided to ban Russian and Belarusian players in April, part of its thought was to prevent the Duchess of Cambridge from handing a trophy to a Russian-born player as the war raged in Ukraine.

But on Saturday, Rybakina, who was born in Russia and still lives in Moscow, although she moved to Kazakhstan four years ago, has every chance to lift the famous Venus Rosewater Dish. Especially if her game remains as destructive as it was against Halep.

After Rybakina blew her opponent off the field with her extraordinary serve – reaching 120 mph – and her toxic foundations, she also showed some dexterous footwork when asked afterwards if she felt Russian in her heart.

“What does it mean to you to feel?” she replied. “I mean, I play tennis, so for me I enjoy my time here. I feel for the players who couldn’t come here, but I just love playing here on the biggest stage, enjoying my time and doing my best,” she added.

Rybakina insisted she was delighted to represent Kazakhstan, but became evasive again when asked if she still lived in Moscow. “I think I’m tour based because I travel every week. I practice in Slovakia between tournaments. I had camps in Dubai. So I don’t live anywhere, to be honest.”

These were difficult questions for the likeable Rybakina to answer, and there was a lot of sympathy for her after the biggest win of her career. But the head of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpishchev, was quick to acknowledge the propaganda victory of Rybakina’s deep run when he promised his country would encourage her. “The grass is perfect for Rybakina,” he said. “Serves cool, plays flat, clear shots. Lena can win Wimbledon. Everything is earned. It’s great that everything turned out this way, we will keep our fingers crossed for her,” he told a Russian website.

What made Rybakina’s win so impressive was that Halep was by far the best form in the tournament, having played just 28 games in all in her five matches, the least of which fell for a decade en route to a Wimbledon semi-final.

The Romanian had also won 12 consecutive matches at Wimbledon, including winning the 2019 title against Serena Williams. Still, she had no answer to Rybakina’s power or poise.

Afterwards, Rybakina insisted she was nervous. But if she was, she disguised it with a magician. She won the opening game to love, crashed three huge serves along with a graceful drop shot, then broke Halep to make it 2-0. Another easy grab followed and the Kazakh led 3-0 in just eight minutes. The pattern was set. She was soon set up in 37 minutes and sprinting for the win.

If Rybakina’s strength wasn’t disturbing enough for Halep, she found her own game starting to crack as well. Three double faults at the start of the second set immediately put her on the back foot as she was broken straight away and then went behind 2-0.

Simona Halep from Romania and Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan shake hands at the net after their semi-final at Wimbledon.
Simona Halep (left) and Elena Rybakina shake hands at the net after their Wimbledon semi-final. Photo: Robert Prange/Getty Images

The crowd sensed Halep would go down meekly. But without warning, Rybakina suddenly threw a service game horror show, repeatedly pushing the ball out of bounds when she was broken to love as the score was reduced to 2-2.

But it was just a storm. Halep was broken again after two more double errors to trail 4-2. Shortly afterwards, another double foul and a foul in the backhand saw Rybakina win the match and become the youngest Wimbledon finalist since Garbiñe Muguruza in 2015.

Slowly she lets herself dream of a Wimbledon final against Ons Jabeur, who will be the first African to play a grand slam final. “I remember when I first met Us when we were playing a WTA 125K,” she recalls. “She was really nice to help me find the club because she had a car. I just love to think that we are making history.”

The prospect of getting Kate Middleton’s trophy also entices her. “It is certainly an honor and I will be very excited for this moment whether I win or lose,” she said.

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“I think it’s just something to remember, and it’s going to be great. We’re a really good, tough player and I think it’s going to be a great game.”

It was impossible not to be enchanted by Rybakina’s happiness and joy – as well as the quality of her tennis. But behind the scenes and their pristine smiles, Wimbledon’s suits are no doubt shuffling uncomfortably.

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