Tennis: No fluke but first of many at Wimbledon, says Rybakina

Elena Rybakina with her trophy after winning Wimbledon on July 9, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (REUTERS) - Elena Rybakina's modest celebrations after winning Wimbledon on Saturday (July 9) was mostly due to her impassive personality but there was possibly also an air of inevitability about her triumph that made her react the way she did.

She was only 20 when her career graph went on an upward trajectory around the start of the 2020 season, as she lifted a second WTA Tour title in Hobart and also reached the finals in Shenzhen, St Petersburg and Dubai.

Rybakina broke into the top 20 of the women's world rankings in February 2020, but saw her progress stymied due to a thigh injury before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the tennis season.

The big-serving Moscow-born player, who switched allegiance to Kazakhstan four years back but reportedly still lives in the Russian capital, reached her maiden Grand Slam quarter-finals at the French Open last year before making the fourth round at the manicured lawns of the All England Club.

So what changed between being another youngster with massive potential to becoming a Grand Slam champion?

"The last three years I think I'm top 20," Rybakina, who reached a career-high ranking of 12 in January, told a small group of reporters late on Saturday during her countless rounds of media obligations.

"And I had very good matches, great battles, against great champions, and it was always close.

"In those close moments I was the one who will lose the serve or just miss. Maybe it mentally clicked (this time). I believed in myself more in this tournament and in the crucial moments I was just solid enough to win."

Kazakhstan Tennis Federation president Bulat Utemuratov on Sunday said her success has been a long time in the making, after she became the country's first Grand Slam singles champion.

"She was able to show her great potential and an extremely high level of play against very strong opponents," he said. "But it was not a surprise. Elena had been improving on a consistent basis and heading towards this type of success for some time.

"There was a period in Elena's tennis career at the age of 18 when she considered stopping. Help from our federation at a crucial time... proved to be effective, and we are glad that we were able to give her an opportunity to achieve her dreams.

"We have some very promising young tennis players in Kazakhstan and I'm incredibly excited about both Elena's future and the sport in our country."

Utemuratov, who was present at Centre Court and cheering on Rybakina from her box, said he decided to travel to London after her quarter-final win over Ajla Tomljanovic as a show of support.

After her win, Rybakina made a point to highlight the support of Utemuratov. "It's just unbelievable. I'm super happy. I appreciate Mr. Bulat Utemuratov," she told reporters on Saturday. "He came to watch and support me from the semis.

"He was always on the phone through the weeks, through the matches, supporting me. So I'm really, really grateful for everything."

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After 21-year-old Iga Swiatek's success at Roland Garros last month and the world No. 1 Pole's strong run this season, Rybakina felt there was a change of generation in women's tennis and the younger players were taking charge.

She believed she will go to New York next month more confident about the US Open, where she has not made it past the third round in three attempts.

With an explosive game modelled mostly on a thunderous serve and iron-heavy groundstrokes, the lanky Rybakina seems to be a shortcut recipe for success on grass courts.

And she has underlined her potential by going down in three sets to then world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka on her Wimbledon main-draw debut last year before going on to receive the Venus Rosewater Dish from the Duchess of Cambridge at Centre Court on a warm Saturday afternoon.

She was the fifth different singles champion at the grass-court Grand Slam in as many editions and her celebration was muted - an unanimated fist pump and a barely discernible smile - before she walked to shake hands with the defeated Tunisian Ons Jabeur.

Asked if she believed she can be the dominant champion at the All England Club in future, Rybakina said: "I think yes.

"Because it was just my second time in the main draw of Wimbledon. And actually, last year I also played really good.

"I think I was in a fourth round, lost to Aryna Sabalenka.

It was a very close much and she played unbelievable. So why not? Maybe I'm gonna be doing well here. We'll see."

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