Wimbledon Rybakina

Wimbledon 2022: Elena Rybakina defies own expectations to reach final

Elena Rybakina may have to get used to playing on Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

Many have crumbled on tennis’ greatest stage but it looked like she was playing in her back garden in a 6-3 6-3 win over Simona Halep in Thursday’s semi-final.

2019 champion Halep cruised through her first five matches without dropping a set and was arguably the favourite for the title, but there was little even she could do on this occasion.

If the 15,000 watching on weren’t familiar with Rybakina before, by the time she hit a return winner to seal victory after an hour and 16 minutes they were more than aware of her talent.

At times it was a dismissive performance, with so many winners coming left, right and centre you wonder if anyone would have been able to compete with her. 

Numerous double faults from Halep in the second set demonstrated the pressure she was under – any soft second serves were being swatted away easily.

This is just the Kazakh’s second time at the All England Club but there is a sense that this will not be her last time at the business end in SW19, with her game tailor made for the surface.

For many, this was a long overdue run for Rybakina. She had reached four finals in the early stages of 2020 before the tour stopped for five months due to Covid, disrupting her seemingly unstoppable rise.

“It was very tough because I was just going up. I thought that I could play every tournament no matter how I felt. It was just always going my way. I felt really good. Everything was new for me,” she said.

“After corona, after this long period, it was very difficult to come back. During the pandemic, I didn’t practice at all. It wasn’t easy. Then [I had] some health problems like injuries, sickness, allergies. It kept on happening. I was very upset.

“This time I came and I cannot say I’m in the perfect shape, physical condition. I don’t think I am. It’s still something I’m thinking about – I need to do more after this tournament to have good preparation for the American swing.

“But I’m really happy. Now I understand that you don’t have to be perfect every day to win matches and go far in tournaments.”

Though few would have picked her to win the title this fortnight, many put her down as a potential contender in a largely open women’s field.

Yet, after her fitness and health struggles, perhaps no one had lower expectations than herself.

She added: “I didn’t expect that I’m going to be here in the second week, especially in the final. I believe that I have a game to go far in the Grand Slams. Of course, I believe that maybe one day I can win it.

“It was tough because I had injuries, I didn’t have good preparation, and it was not the moment when I’m just going up with my results. So of course I came a bit more relaxed since I knew that I didn’t have good preparation.

“Maybe that is something that also helped me to get through all these matches. I can say that this is really the first time when I enjoyed every day of playing and just being on the tournaments.”

Despite her own doubts the Kazakh – born and raised in Moscow, before switching allegiances in 2018 – has pulled her way six tough matches.

Coco Vandeweghe, Bianca Andreescu and Aija Tomljanovic were among the players she defeated before downing former world No.1 Halep; her draw has not been a walk in the park.

It does not get any easier on Saturday with world No.2 Ons Jabeur standing in between her and the famed Venus Rosewater Dish.

Rybakina retired down a set when they last faced off last season in Chicago, but before that had split their previous two meetings with a three-set win apiece.

The 17th seed has the bigger weapons and that will always be an advantage on grass, though her Tunisian opponents has the power and guile to also feel at home on the surface.

It is a first final for both, and it could come down to who handles the occasion better.

“Of course I’m going to be nervous. Everybody is probably nervous when they are going to play on Centre Court and if it’s a final,” she said.

“It’s a challenge for me to be stable, to be strong mentally, and try to do my best.

“I know how Ons plays. She knows how I play. We know each other well. We see how it’s going to go. But, as I said, I’m going to try to do my best.”

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