Elena Rybakino and Ons Jabeur, face to face, for an appointment with history.
The Tunisian Ons Jabeur, number two in the world, will look to become the first Arab player with a Grand Slam title this Saturday at Wimbledon. On the other side of the net it will be Elena Rybakina, born in Russia but who can participate in the tournament which is forbidden to his compatriots – and even Belarusians – because he represents Kazakhstan. They play from 10 in Argentina and broadcast ESPN and Star + on television.
Jabeur, 27, who has so far reached no more than a Grand Slam quarter-final – this is the case where she crashed last year in London and in 2020 at the Australian Open – said she wanted to be a pioneer. for Arab and African players: “I wish I could pass that message on to the younger generations”.
For his part, Rybakina, 23rd in the world, said so “I didn’t expect to get to the second week and even less to the final”after falling in the round of 16 on her first participation in 2021. In the same year, the 23-year-old Moscow-born tennis player reached the quarter-finals of Roland Garros, her longest trip in one of the big fours.
But on Thursday Simona Halep prevailed with authority in the semifinals. Wimbledon champion in 2019, the Romanian had never returned to the grass of the All England Club in London since and had been merciless with all her opponents until she crossed paths with the Kazakh.
Elena Rybakina celebrates a point in the duel against Simona Halep. Photo: AP
“I don’t know how Rybakina will respond to Jabeur’s game, which is to change the pace, cut the pace with a lot of drops. Also, Jabeur is serving well and will be interesting,” said Halep, when asked about his take on the final. .
“I can’t say if Rybakina will be able to maintain this level, but she probably will if she feels really safe,” added the Romanian.
Jabeur, who plays bunt, slice and drop as constant variations, believes he “has the game” to succeed at Wimbledon’s massive Center Court. And he assures that since eliminating him last year, his “main goal” for this season was to lift the English Grand Slam trophy.
Ons Jabeur has been unbeaten in 11 games on grass. Photo: AP
“I’ll be back for the title,” he assured his team 12 months ago. And he continued: “Don’t lie to yourself, the dream started last year when I enjoyed playing here, I enjoyed the audience,” said the number two in the world. “I hadn’t played so many Wimbledons before. Normally it was round one and two” because “the grass is tough but I knew I was playing well”.
This year the Tunisian won the tournament on the grass in Berlin and boasts eleven consecutive victories on that surface.
Ons Jabeur has never gone this far in a Grand Slam. Photo: AP
Unlike her rival, Rybakina is coming out of an injury and several health problems, so she hasn’t had a good preparation. But she says having nothing to lose has allowed her to face Wimbledon “more relaxed”.
Born and raised in Moscow, she has been playing under the Kazakh flag since 2018, when she decided to move to the neighboring country of Russia, being the 175th place in the world – an important decision that this year allowed her to participate in Wimbledon when her parents organizers decided to veto the participation of tennis players, Russians and Belarusians in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s troops.
Elena Rybakina has been playing for Kazakhstan since 2018. Photo: AP
This prevented players of the level of Daniil Medvedev, world number one, from competing, while others, with dual nationality, chose to change countries such as Natela Dzalamidze, 45th in the WTA doubles, who competed for Georgia, where his father is from. .
Jabeur admits that she “often imagined giving a speech with the trophy in hand,” but if the Russian-born player eventually wins, the timing could be at least embarrassing for tournament organizers. Fined a million dollars by the WTA women’s circuit following its decision to ban the participation of Russian and Belarusian tennis players, Wimbledon announced that it has appealed the sanction.