Wimbledon’s new champion Marketa Vondrousova may be unheralded and unseeded but, in reality, this talented Czech 24-year old is catching up with the potential she showed by reaching the French Open final in 2019, and winning a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics, when she demolished Ons Jabeur in the Ladies final on Saturday, shattering the Tunisian’s dreams in the process.
I was just, like, open-minded. I didn’t have much stress ‘till today. I think you just have to believe in yourself. I was just trying not to think much about the title and everything. You just have to stay focused and in your head and just have the small circle around you, just do the same things as you always do. Yeah, I feel like anything can happen. Market Vondrousova
With the roof of the Centre Court closed because of high winds and a Met Office yellow weather warning, the indoor conditions played into Vondrousova’s hands, and the left-hander was able to deploy her destructive array of skills with greater effect.
Organisers made the decision early because the winds were gusting up to 5o miles per hour, and Vondrousova said she received the news at 10am that morning.
“I think it’s better for me,” said Vondrousova, who actually warmed up at 11am for the 2pm match on an outdoor court, in order to stick to her game plan, while Jabeur hit on Centre under the closed roof. “I was really happy they closed the roof because it’s very different than in the windy weather.
“The roof can help you with serve. You don’t have to focus on the wind so much. I feel like everything is the same on every side. I think you just have to focus on the game, not on the wind, not even on the sun.
“I think that’s a good thing. I’m used to playing indoors. We practice in Prague in winter indoors. I always play good indoors. I was like, ‘Yeah, maybe that’s going to help me’.”
It was a good omen for Vondrousova, who executed a come-back against the World No 3 American, Jessica Pegula, in the quarter-finals and beat 3-time major semi-finalist Elina Svitolina from Ukraine in the semi-finals under closed roofs.
Vondrousova’s only previous tour title had also come indoors, when she beat Anett Kontaveit in Switzerland back in 2017, but she had arrived at the All England Club with only 4 wins on a grass court in her career.
Nevertheless, Vondrousova quietly unravelled each of her higher-ranked opponents as she stealthily made her way to the final.
One year ago she was at Wimbledon with her left wrist in a cast as a guest, watching her doubles partner play in the qualifying competition. It was the second of two wrist surgeries she endured.
As for Jabeur, she said: “The closing of the roof? I wasn’t focused on that, I can’t say that with the roof open things would have gone differently.”
On Saturday, Vondrousova lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish after the World No 42 had completed her improbable run with a 6-4 6-4 win over Jabeur, the 6th seed from Tunisia, to become a first-time Grand Slam winner on her second appearance in a final, the lowest-ranked and first unseeded woman to win Wimbledon.
She is just the third Czech woman to claim the title after Petra Kvitova and Jana Novotna, while Martina Navratilova, who was born in Czechoslovakia, won her record 9 Wimbledon titles after she defected to the United States in 1975.
“Tennis is crazy,” Vondrousova said, laughing. “I don’t really know what’s happening right now. It’s an amazing feeling. I had a cast last year this time. This is amazing I can stand here.
“I think it was the most impossible Grand Slam for me to win, so I didn’t even think of it. When we came, I was just like, ‘Try to win couple of matches’.”
To get the trophy, Vondrousova had to beat 5 seeds, and while she trailed in both sets on Saturday, she broke back and, up 40-0 in the last game, she took a deep breath before calmly serving out the match and finishing with a fine put-away volley.
It brought Jabeur to tears, who had succumbed to Vondrousova’s fine web of slices and dices, and unruffled defence that had put her off her stride from the outset.
The 28-year-old Tunisian was the clear favourite for the title, to both bookies and fans, and she carried the weight of her country, Arab women, and the African continent on her shoulders.
Last year she also fell at this stage, after becoming the first Arab woman to make a Grand Slam final before losing to Elena Rybakina, and she also went on to make the US Open final, but lost to World No 1 Iga Swiatek.
Saturday’s result puts her on an a quality list of women who lost their first 3 Grand Slam finals, including Chris Evert, Kim Clijsters and Simona Halep.
“Four, actually, Kim was just telling me,” Jabeur said of Clijsters, who then went on to win her last 4 major finals. “We were crying together in the locker room.”
Jabeur had taken down 4 major champions on her way to final, and arrived in the final as the most successful grass-court WTA player in years, having won 28 matches on the surface since the start of 2021.
Significantly, she had beaten left-handed Kvitova, the powerful defending champion Rybakina, and the World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka, all big hitters who strike the ball with great power, and, for the most part, little finesse, so she was unprepared for the subtleties in the Vondrousova game.
A different kind of player, Vondrousova, like Jabeur, is a disruptor, who thrives on killing opponents softly.
When the Princess of Wales, the royal patron of the All England Club who was wearing a stylish pale green dress, later awarded the sterling silver runner-up salver to Jabeur, the Tunisian covered her eyes, sobbing, and received a comforting hug.
“She didn’t know whether to hug me and I told her that hugs are always welcome from me,” Jabeur said later. “It was a good moment after the final.”
It was reminiscent of 30 years ago, when Novotna shed tears on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder after she lost the final to Steffi Graf.
“This is very, very tough,” Jabeur said through her tears in her on court interview. “I think this is the most painful loss of my career.
“Congratulations to Marketa and her team,” she added. “You are an amazing player, I know you had a lot of injuries, and I’m very happy for you.
“It’s going to be a tough day for me today, but I’m not going to give up. I’m going to come back stronger. I promise I’ll come back one day and win this tournament.”
Possibly, Jabeur was too eager to start the match, arriving at the appointed spot in Centre Court 8 minutes before the walk-on, looking tense and nervous as she listened to music.
She started confidently, deploying a variety of shots from her considerable arsenal to break a nervous Vondrousova’s serve and take a 2-0 lead, but the rallies began to lengthen as both players used heavy slice, and the Czech chased down every ball with remarkable defensive skills.
On serve in the 3rd game, she saved a break point before clipping the net on a second to hand Vondrousova the break back, and in the next game her groundstrokes failed as Vondrousova got into her head by reading her drop-shots, running each one down and putting them away with accuracy and little pace.
“Honestly, I felt a lot of pressure, feeling a lot of stress,” Jabeur told reporters afterwards. “But like every final, like every match I played, I was telling myself, ‘It’s OK, it’s normal. I honestly did nothing wrong. I did everything that I could.’”
Clearly a little out of sorts, Jabeur made some uncharacteristic errors, although she broke Vondrousova to love and found herself with a 4-2 lead, which was when her game began to crack, little by little, as the tension built within the Tunisian, handcuffing her normally fluid game and hampering her movement.
“Marketa just put the ball in, slices a lot,” Jabeur said later. “I believe that it was completely different match from the last three that I had. So maybe adapting to her rhythm was very difficult for me — plus the pressure and the stress of the final.”
Her game was unravelling, and Vondrousova won 16 of the next 18 points and 4 straight games to take the first set.
Vondrousova took the first set in 40 minutes, and Jabeur left the court to regroup during the break, but it did little good as she continued to miss the lines and clipped the net on her way to producing 31 unforced errors to Vondrousova’s 13, while the Czech was a brick wall, winning 6 of her 7 break points.
Jabeur had served poorly in the first set, and was broken 3 times as Vondrousova, playing with patience, absorbed 11 winners alongside 15 unforced errors.
As she had the entire fortnight, though, Jabeur rallied, breaking Vondrousova and racing out to a 3-1 lead in the second, but the Czech, playing more terrific defence, immediately got it back on serve, and the last straw came in the 9th game when Vondrousova, playing close to the baseline and taking the ball early, forced the issue and was rewarded with two loose forehands from the Tunisian to lead 5-4, and then served out the match.
She sank to her knees when she won, and crumpled further from there, rolling onto her back on the grass where she once felt so inadequate.
Caught off guard by her success, her family had stayed home until the final weekend when Vondrousova’s sister flew in on Friday, and her husband arrived just in time for the final, and their first wedding anniversary on Sunday.
“I was just, like, open-minded. I didn’t have much stress ‘till today,” Vondrousova said. “I think you just have to believe in yourself.
“I was just trying not to think much about the title and everything. You just have to stay focused and in your head and just have the small circle around you, just do the same things as you always do. Yeah, I feel like anything can happen.”
Vondrousova was such a long shot that Nike had allowed her apparel contract to expire last year. That will surely change now.
It was her third win of the season over Jabeur, and it took her just 80 minutes to lift the trophy, after a win that will project her into the Top 10 for the first time at No 10 in Monday’s new rankings.
Jabeur, meanwhile, lost for the third time in a major final, all in the past year, while Vondrousova, who had only won one match at the All England Club prior to this visit, and thought playing on grass was ‘impossible’, is now the most tattooed winner of the Venus Rosewater Dish.
In addition to all her other body art, including the words ‘no rain, no flowers’ to encourage her to keep going in hard times, the new champion is planning to add a new tattoo in celebration, along with her coach, who vowed he would get one too if she ever won a Grand Slam.
Since tennis went professional in 1968, no unseeded woman had previously appeared on the second Saturday of Wimbledon, and Vondrousova was the first since Billie Jean King in 1963, who was sitting in the front row of the Royal Box. So was a beaming Navratilova.