Ons Jabeur, Elena Rybakina in a Wimbledon women’s final of firsts

Ons Jabeur
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Neither Ons Jabeur nor Elena Rybakina had been to a major semifinal before this Wimbledon. Neither Tunisia nor Kazakhstan had ever been represented in a major singles semifinal.

On Saturday, Jabeur of Tunisia and Rybakina, a Moscow-born Kazakh, will play for the Wimbledon title.

Jabeur defeated German Tatjana Maria in Thursday’s semifinals to become the first African woman, and first Arab or North African man or woman, to reach a Grand Slam singles final in the Open Era.

Jabeur, the No. 3 seed, prevailed 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 over her friend Maria, a 34-year-old mother of two ranked 103rd.

“It’s a dream coming true from years and years of work and sacrifice,” Jabeur said. “I’m really happy it’s paying off. I continue for one more match now.”

The 27-year-old Jabeur continued an ascent from junior Grand Slam champion (2011 French Open). She made her WTA Tour main draw debut in 2012 at age 14, made her first major quarterfinal in 2020, broke into the top 10 in the world in 2021 and is now ranked second.

“I’m a proud Tunisian woman standing here today,” said Jabeur, who is called the “Minister of Happiness” back home. “I know in Tunisia they’re going crazy right now. I just try to inspire as much as I can.”

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Rybakina, the No. 17 seed, rode a powerful serve to upset 2019 Wimbledon champion Simona Halep 6-3, 6-3 in her first match on Centre Court.

“I was nervous of course, but I think the matches before [on Court 1] helped me,” she said.

Russian players are banned from this tournament due to the nation’s invasion of Ukraine. Rybakina, 23, was born in Moscow, but in 2018 switched nationality to Kazakhstan, which offered her financial support.

She was a rising star before the pandemic, reaching four finals in her first five WTA tournaments of 2020 and getting up to No. 17 in the rankings.

Rybakina didn’t take a similar leap in 2021, though she did beat Serena Williams during a French Open quarterfinal run. She lost two medal matches at the Olympics and ended the year ranked 14th.

Rybakina opened 2022 by taking runner-up to world No. 1 Ash Barty in an Australian Open tune-up. She hadn’t reached another tournament semifinal before her Wimbledon run.

Saturday’s matchup will continue a recent trend in women’s tennis — the third final in the last six majors to pit players who had not previously made a major semifinal.

But it’s an anomaly at Wimbledon, which has been defined by dominating stretches from the Williams sisters, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.

Jabeur vs. Rybakina is the first Wimbledon final pitting two women in their first major final since 1962.

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