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

Ons Jabeur

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.”


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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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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