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Wimbledon gears up for clash of firsts

Russians claim Rybakina as theirs
Ons Jabeur (left) of Tunisia and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan
Ons Jabeur (left) of Tunisia and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan
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Reuters   |   London   |   Published 09.07.22, 12:59 AM

Kazakhstan and Tunisia – not really the first countries that come to mind when one thinks of a Wimbledon final. But on Saturday, at the Centre Court of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, it will be two ladies representing them and fighting it out for the singles title.

Elena Rybakina and Ons Jabeur have become the first players from Kazakhstan and Tunisia, respectively, to make it to the final of the grass court grand slam.


For Rybakina, the narrative goes even beyond that. Born in Moscow, she had played for Russia till 2018. And for many she is still a Russian.

With Rybakina reaching the final, Russians scoffed at Wimbledon’s efforts to keep their compatriots out of the tournament.

Wimbledon barred all Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s championships due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, a decision that was condemned by the men’s and women’s tours as well as a string of top players.

“Lena lives in Moscow, grew up and became a player here,” former Russian tennis player Andrei Chesnokov, who worked with Rybakina, told sports website. “Let’s congratulate the (British) Royal Family, they will have to congratulate someone from Russia,” he added.

Fears about how it would look to parade a Russian or Belarusian winner alongside the royal family, who play a major role at Wimbledon prize distribution ceremonies, were reportedly behind the decision for the ban.

Rybakina, who beat Romania’s Simona Halep in straight sets to reach Saturday’s final, will face Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the first Arab player to reach the last stage of a grand slam.

In a final of firsts, Russians have a clear favourite.

Shamil Tarpischev, president of the Russian Tennis Federation, congratulated Rybakina and insisted Russia had something to do with her success. “It’s great that Elena is in the Wimbledon final. She is our product,” RIA news agency quoted Tarpischev as saying. “Of course we will cheer for her.”

‘Minister of Happiness’

In Tunisia, on the other hand, Jabeur has been hailed as the “Minister of Happiness”.

“Tunisians have forgotten their problems, all are proud of Ons... She is really the Minister of Happiness,” sports minister Kamel Deguich said, adding he would travel to London to watch Saturday’s match.                                         

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