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With Wimbledon title, Rybakina’s emotions finally bubble over

  • Matt Trollope

Elena Rybakina is notable for her near-expressionless celebrations at the moment of victory.

It was no different on Saturday – even as she won the grandest title of her career at Wimbledon.

The big-hitting Kazakh grew in confidence and momentum to end Ons Jabeur’s trailblazing run at The Championships – as well as the Tunisian’s 11-match winning streak – with a 3-6 6-2 6-2 triumph.

When Jabeur guided a final backhand return wide, Rybakina simply gave a small fist pump, exhaling as she approached Jabeur to shake hands.

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Afterward, there was a quick wave to the crowd and a little smile in the direction of her entourage. 

But as the enormity of the moment sunk in, emotions welled up in her. 

“I was super nervous before the match, during the match… happy that it finished, to be honest,” she said with a little laugh as she accepted the trophy. “Really, I never felt something like this.”

As the formalities unfolded, onlookers saw beyond the “very calm” exterior of the 23-year-old Kazakh. 

As she chatted with Sue Barker on Centre Court while grasping the trophy, multiple thoughts, feelings, thank-yous and emotions tumbled out, warming the hearts of the Centre Court crowd.

In a candid succession of media appearances, Rybakina revealed just how profoundly affected she was by achieving a milestone she, delightfully, described as “unexpectable”.

“I can't believe still. Maybe one day, in few days, I sit down and I realise what I did. But for now I'm super proud of myself,” she said.

“It was such a tough match mentally and physically, so in the end I was just super happy that it finished. In this moment I just didn't believe that I made it.

“I don't know what should happen. When I was giving speech in the end I was thinking, I'm going to cry right now, but somehow I hold it. 

“Maybe later when I'm going to be alone in the room, I'm going to cry nonstop. I don't know (smiling).”

She did not have to wait until being alone. Tears came when she was asked how she imagined her parents might react when she found time to speak with them after her victory.

“Probably they're going to be super proud,” she said, and began to cry, before joking: “You wanted to see emotion.”

Both she and the journalists in the press room laughed.

The early stages of the final were no laughing matter for Rybakina, who had never before gone beyond the quarterfinal stage of a Grand Slam tournament.

The world No.23 fell behind against an energised Jabeur, who had been targeting this title from the beginning of the season.

But once Rybakina settled, she wrested control of the second set, and clung on to her lead in the third set, even when Jabeur came at her strongly. 

After surviving a 0-40 deficit to hold for a 4-2 lead in the third, Rybakina never looked back. 

“For me the worse thing, if you're up, then you lose the match. Unfortunately I had many matches like this, so maybe it helped me a bit,” Rybakina reflected.

“I was trying to convince myself that it might happen again, and hopefully it's not the last time I'm in the final. Not the first; not the last. 

“With these kind of words I was trying to calm myself down.”

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Perhaps that calmness seeped into her eventual victory reaction; Jabeur joked that she needed “to teach her how to celebrate really good”.

But it was more than that; the memories of those aforementioned leads lost undoubtedly contributed to her disbelief when she served out the biggest match of her career.

In her previous best Grand Slam performance, she heartbreakingly fell 9-7 in the third set of her 2021 Roland Garros quarterfinal to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

A few months later at the Tokyo Olympics, she let slip a commanding position against Belinda Bencic – which would have earned her a spot in the gold medal match – then fell in the bronze medal match to Elina Svitolina, despite leading by a set and a break, and by 4-1 in the third.

There was also disappointment when her sizzling start to season 2020 was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Saturday at the All England Club, she authored a far happier chapter in her career story so far.

“For sure I'm going to remember these two weeks, especially today, forever,” Rybakina said.

“Not going to lie. Today I was too stressed out. I think I didn't enjoy it as much as I should maybe.

“I think that I'm going to enjoy for sure maybe tomorrow, maybe when everything, like, is going to be calm. I'm going to be around my close friends, family. 

“Maybe I proved… to myself that I can actually win a Grand Slam, believe more in myself, and maybe I can win more Grand Slams. Who knows? 

“But for sure that's the goal, and that's what I'm going to work for.”