WIMBLEDON, England — Between Nick Kyrgios’ spectacle and Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the tournament, there have been plenty of headlines on the men’s side of the Wimbledon draw. Unfortunately, this likely obscured two rich histories on the women’s side.
For the first time since 1962, two women making their first appearance in a Grand Slam final will meet, following a new draw not held.
No. 3 Ons Jabeur and No. 17 Elena Rybakina summoned their best tennis and bring rich and compelling stories to Saturday’s women’s singles final. They feature a contrast of styles that we love to see from athletes on their biggest stage.
These players are not unknown on the circuit. And for as much heartache the women’s game sometimes receives for that parity, especially in the face of the Big Three’s consistent excellence, it’s easy to see that matchup as a virtue.
A few months ago, Jabeur entered Roland-Garros as the first favorite, only to lose to Magda Linette in the first round. She later called it a blessing in disguise, a blessing that has helped her during the grass season, especially here at Wimbledon. Jabeur, the first Arab and African woman to reach this stage of a Slam, plays witty tennis – almost using her racquet like a baton and preferring sharp angles and drop shots to power.
Jabeur, 27, became a hot favorite after Iga Swiatek was ousted in the third round and heeded that prediction. She has closed close matches and has only dropped two sets so far in the fortnight. She also won the press conferences. Asked earlier this week about Boris Johnson’s resignation as UK Prime Minister, she joked: ‘I don’t really know, but I’m the Minister for Happiness. It will go down as one of the greatest quotes of all time.
If Jabeur wins, it’s hard to see her as a one-hit wonder, and her personal story will resonate beyond the sport.
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“I want to go further, to inspire many other generations,” Jabeur told reporters this week. “Tunisia is connected to the Arab world, is connected to the African continent. … I want to see more players from my country, from the Middle East, from Africa.
On the other side of the net is 23-year-old Rybakina, who has all the power on the pitch. Sharpening a big serve and standing half a foot taller than Jabeur, she’s the leading aces on the WTA Tour so far this year. Off the pitch, she is much harder to get to know, largely due to nationality issues. Born in Moscow, she trains and still resides there. However, four years ago she received funding from the Federation of Kazakhstan and changed her nationality. It’s hard to blame him for that decision, but it complicates things when you have Russian players who are banned from this tournament due to their country’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
The idea that a Russian player in all respects except his passport could lift the trophy here has been, at the very least, a complication for this event. For his part, Rybakina has been very diplomatic on the issue, postponing any questions asking for more clarity about his nationality and loyalties.
“I feel for the players who couldn’t come here,” Rybakina said recently, “but I just like playing here on the biggest stage, enjoying my time and trying to do my best.”
It will ultimately come down to managing the moment, more than the Xs and O’s, in a career-changing moment for both players. It will be Jabeur in three sets, a starting point towards more greatness.
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