Wimbledon | Rybakina halts Halep to make first major final

If Wimbledon hoped to exclude Russians from this year’s Championships, Elena Rybakina’s arrival in the women’s final, albeit cloaked as a Kazakstan national, must be making some officials squirm, but the Kazakh thoroughly deserves her place in the Last 2 alongside Ons Jabeur.

I don't know how to describe it, but it was really, really good. Usually, of course, I have ups and downs and it comes from the nerves. But I think today I was mentally prepared, and I did everything that I could, and it was an amazing match. I'm really happy with my performance as I played a solid match. Elena Rybakina

Having acquired Kazakh citizenship and switched Federations from Russia to Kazakhstan in June 2018, Moscow-born Rybakina surprised all by producing a mature, nerveless performance to dispatch former World No 1 and 2019 Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, 6-3 6-3, in just an hour and 18 minutes of riveting tennis.

“I actually answered this question yesterday and, as I said yesterday, I can repeat it now, I’m playing for Kazakhstan for a long time, and I’m really happy representing Kazakhstan,” she said when asked if she was ‘representing Russia at all in this tournament’.

“They believed in me, and there is no more question about how I feel. It’s just, already long time, my journey as a Kazakh player. I played Olympics, I played Fed Cup [for Kazakhstan] so, I think, I gave an answer already yesterday about this.”

Asked where she actually lives, Rybakina, whose family remain in Moscow, replied: “I think I’m based on tour because I’m travelling every week. Most of the time I spend on tour.

“I practise in Slovakia between the tournaments. I had camps in Dubai. So I don’t live anywhere, to be honest.”

In Kazakhstan, though, they are celebrating, as they are, no doubt, in Moscow.

“I think it’s amazing that now on TV, on the news you can see that I’m playing the final, and it’s for the first time,” she said.

Remarkably, Rybakina has reached the final while not feeling in great shape, suffering from hay fever.

She credits her coach for telling her to keep plugging away, and saying that things do not have to be perfect for her to win.

“This time I came [to Wimbledon] and I cannot say I’m in the perfect shape, physical condition,” she admitted.

Elena Rybakina (R) took an hour 15 minutes to see off Simona Halep in the semi-final at Wimbledon

© Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

Halep, meanwhile, had looked well on course to land her second Wimbledon crown and third Grand Slam title, but she was simply out-gunned by Rybakina.

Standing at 6 foot tall, the 23-year old powered past the 16th-seeded Romanian in straight sets in their Wimbledon semi-final, to become the first player from Kazakhstan to reach a major final.

“It’s time to enjoy and really have fun on court,” Rybakina said. “Simona is a great champion. “I was really focused, and I was really happy with my performance.”

The No 17 seed had never beaten Halep until this day, when she blasted past the Romanian to hand her a first loss at Wimbledon since 2018.

The World No 23 is the youngest Wimbledon finalist since Garbiñe Muguruza, aged 21 in 2015, and she is seeking her 3rd career singles title, but her first in two-and-a-half years.

Rybakina won titles at 2019 Bucharest and 2020 Hobart, and she reached 4 finals in her first 5 tournaments of a break-through 2020, but she is 2-6 in finals overall, including a loss to then-World No 1 Ash Barty at Adelaide in January this year.

She has also taken the mantle of ‘Ace Queen’ this season, leading the WTA Tour by adding 5 aces on Thursday to her total for the year to 219.

Simona Halep told the press Elena Rybakina deserved the win

© AELTC/Joe Toth - Pool/Getty Images

Exhibiting a variety of exceptional shots throughout the tournament, not just with the serve, she demonstrated against Halep that she can take charge from all sectors of the court, hitting 17 winners in the process.

Halep saw her 14 winners undone by 9 double-faults, 2 of which came while facing break point and, while the former World No 1 had not lost a set en route to the semi-finals, she could not blunt the fiery hitting by Rybakina on this occasion.

Serving at up to 121mph and crushing her forehand at every opportunity, Rybakina produced great groundstroke depth, ending a lengthy rally with a winning forehand to give herself an immediate break for 2-0.

Fending off the next 4 break points she faced, Halep was never able to pull back on serve, and Rybakina swept to the one-set lead.

Halep coughed up 3 double-faults in her first service game of the second, but she finally broke Rybakina at love to level the set at 2-2.

More aggressive rally play by Rybakina in the next game, though, brought her another break point, and Halep double-faulted again.

Rybakina simply rolled to victory on from there, slamming her 5th ace of the day to close out a hold for 5-3 and as Halep allowed a 40-15 lead slip away when serving to stay in the match, the Kazakh went on to convert her first match point with a backhand return winner.

“I don’t know how to describe it, but it was really, really good,” Rybakina said afterwards. “Usually, of course, I have ups and downs and it comes from the nerves.

“But I think today I was mentally prepared, and I did everything that I could, and it was an amazing match.

“I’m really happy with my performance as I played a solid match.”

Halep simply could not deal with Rybakina’s power, and could well have been ‘bagelled’ here and, while she won 3 games in the opening set, she survived at least one break point in each one.

The 30-year old has rediscovered her love for tennis with the help of new coach Patrick Mouratoglou after nearly retiring last year, and she looked very much on song for a 2nd-title, until she met Rybakina.

The Romanian did not play poorly, with her improved movement and astonishing defensive skills, but she faced serves of up to 121 mph from an opponent who barely made an error.

Going into this semi-final, Halep had won more than half of her service games, but she broke just once in this match, and that was when, from nowhere, Rybakina produced a slew of miscues, her only loose game in an otherwise composed performance.

After declaring she was in her best form since her 2019 triumph in London, Halep said her opponent deserved to win.

“Somehow, I think, I gave her the perfect ball to do her game, to feel comfortable on court,” said Halep. “But, as I said, all the credit to her. She deserved to win today with the way I played.”

Ons Jabeur's all-round game will be a new challenge to Elena Rybakina in the ladies final on Saturday

© Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The result means a new name will be engraved on the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday afternoon.

At only her second Wimbledon, 23-year-old Elena Rybakina will attempt to become the first player from Kazakhstan to win any Grand Slam, while Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the No 3 seed, will be trying to make some history of her own as the first African to lift the trophy.

Jabeur, who leads their head-to-head 2-1, the Kazak winning their first encounter in 2019 but the Tunisian taking both meetings last year, became the first Arab athlete to progress to a Grand Slam singles final when she defeated Germany’s Tatjana Maria on the Centre Court earlier in the day, 6-2 3-6 6-1.

“I think it’s going to be a great match,” Rybakina said of her next encounter with Jabeur. “She’s a great player, very tricky player — it’s not going to be easy to play against her drop-shots and volleys.

“I think I already did the work, so it’s time to enjoy it out on court.”

Elena Rybakina serving against Simona Halep on Centre Court on Thursday

© Shaun Botterill/Getty Images



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