Elena Rybakina becomes one of Wimbledon’s biggest surprise women’s champions

Elena Rybakina

Elena Rybakina, a Russian until switching nationality to Kazakhstan in 2018, became one of the unlikeliest Wimbledon women’s champions in history, prevailing at a tournament that banned Russians from playing.

She rallied past Tunisian Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the first Wimbledon women’s final to pit a pair of first-time major finalists since 1962.

“It’s a fairy tale,” Rybakina said.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old ranked No. 23, became the second-lowest-ranked woman to win Wimbledon after Venus Williams, who was No. 31 when she won in 2007. But Williams had already won three Wimbledon titles. Rybakina had never made it past the quarterfinals of a major before this run.

“I was super nervous before the match, during the match and, honestly, happy that it finished,” she said after receiving the Venus Rosewater Dish trophy from Kate Middleton, The Duchess of Cambridge.

Rybakina didn’t expect to make it past the third round, and it showed in the first set controlled by Jabeur. The Tunisian, known for her array of talents and game plans, tried to get the powerful-serving Rybakina to move, particularly to the net. Rybakina eventually found her footing, breaking Jabeur to start the second set, and carried that momentum through.

I run today so much so I don’t think I need to do fitness anymore,” said the 6-foot Rybakina, who had more unforced errors in the first set (17) than the second and third combined (16).

Her match point reaction was so muted that Jabeur joked she needed to teach her how to celebrate.

“I didn’t know what to do. It was shocking,” she said. “I was just trying to keep myself calm. Maybe one day you will see huge reaction from me, but unfortunately not today.”



Rybakina was born and raised in Moscow (and reportedly still resides there), but in 2018 switched nationality to Kazakhstan, which offered her more financial support to further her tennis career.

Asked on Wednesday if she felt more Kazakh or Russian, Rybakina said it was a “tough question.”

“I’m really happy representing Kazakhstan. They believed in me,” she said Thursday when asked a similar question. “There is no more question about how I feel.”

In April, Wimbledon became the first (and so far only) tennis major to ban Russian and Belarusian players over the war in Ukraine. The ban did not extend to Russian-born players who previously switched nationalities to other countries, such as Rybakina and Kazakhstan’s top male singles player, Alexander Bublik.

“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships,” the All England Club said in a statement then. “It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022.”

The ATP and WTA Tours responded by stripping Wimbledon of ranking points. All of the best, healthy players still showed up.

No Kazakh singles player had made a major semifinal before Rybakina’s run the last two weeks.

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 this year before her Wimbledon run.

Jabeur said after losing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year that she would win the title this year. She even put a picture of the trophy as her phone’s lock screen background. Still, she became the first African woman, and first Arab or North African man or woman, to reach a Grand Slam singles final in the Open Era.

“Elena stole my title, but it’s OK,” said Jabeur, nicknamed the “Minister of Happiness” in Tunisia. “Hopefully next time will be mine.”

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Swiss extend best streak in curling history; Norway continues epic winter sports season

Switzerland Women Curling

Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni extended the most dominant run in world curling championships history, skipping a women’s team to a fourth consecutive title and pushing an unbeaten streak to 36 consecutive games.

Tirinzoni, along with Alina Pätz (who throws the last stones), Carole Howald and Briar Schwaller-Hürlimann, beat Norway 6-3 in Sunday’s final in Sandviken, Sweden.

They went 14-0 for the tournament after a Swiss team also skipped by Tirinzoni also went 14-0 to win the 2022 World title. Tirinzoni’s last defeat in world championship play came during round-robin in 2021 at the hands of Swede Anna Hasselborg, the 2018 Olympic champion.

In all, Tirinzoni’s Swiss are 42-1 over the last three world championships and 45-1 in world championship play dating to the start of the 2019 playoffs. Tirinzoni also skipped the Swiss at the last two Olympics, finishing seventh and then fourth.

Tirinzoni, a 43-year-old who has worked as a project management officer for Migros Bank, is the lone female skip to win three or more consecutive world titles.

The lone man to do it is reigning Olympic champion Niklas Edin of Sweden, who goes for a fifth in a row next week in Ottawa. Edin’s teams lost at least once in round-robin play in each of their four title runs.

Norway extended its incredible winter sports season by earning its first world medal in women’s curling since 2005.

Norway has 53 medals, including 18 golds, in world championships in Winter Olympic program events this season, surpassing its records for medals and gold medals at a single edition of a Winter Olympics (39 and 16).

A Canadian team skipped by Kerri Einarson took bronze. Canada has gone four consecutive women’s worlds without making the final, a record drought for its men’s or women’s teams.

A U.S. team skipped by Olympian Tabitha Peterson finished seventh in round-robin, missing the playoffs by one spot.

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Ilia Malinin eyed new heights at figure skating worlds, but a jump to gold requires more


At 18 years old, Ilia Malinin already has reached immortality in figure skating for technical achievement, being the first to land a quadruple Axel jump in competition.

The self-styled “Quadg0d” already has shown the chutzpah (or hubris?) to go for the most technically difficult free skate program ever attempted at the world championships, including that quad Axel, the hardest jump anyone has tried.

It helped bring U.S. champion Malinin the world bronze medal Saturday in Saitama, Japan, where he made more history as the first to land the quad Axel at worlds.

But it already had him thinking that the way to reach the tops of both the worlds and Olympus might be to acknowledge his mortal limits.

Yes, if Malinin (288.44 points) had cleanly landed all six quads he did instead of going clean on just three of the six, it would have closed or even overcome the gap between him and repeat champion Shoma Uno of Japan (301.14) and surprise silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan (296.03), the first South Korean man to win a world medal.

That’s a big if, as no one ever has done six clean quads in a free skate.

And the energy needed for those quads, physical and mental, hurts Malinin’s chances of closing another big gap with the world leaders: the difference in their “artistic” marks, known as component scores.

Malinin’s technical scores led the field in both the short program and free skate. But his component scores were lower than at last year’s worlds, when he finished ninth, and they ranked 10th in the short program and 11th in the free this time. Uno had an 18.44-point overall advantage over Malinin in PCS, Cha a 13.47 advantage.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Chock, Bates, and a long road to gold | Results

As usual in figure skating, some of the PCS difference owes to the idea of paying your dues. After all, at his first world championships, eventual Olympic champion Nathan Chen had PCS scores only slightly better than Malinin’s, and Chen’s numbers improved substantially by the next season.

But credit Malinin for quickly grasping the reality that his current skating has a lot of rough edges on the performance side.

“I’ve noticed that it’s really hard to go for a lot of risks,” he said in answer to a press conference question about what he had learned from this competition. “Sometimes going for the risks you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and go for a lot cleaner skate. I think it will be beneficial next season to lower the standards a bit.”

So could it be “been-there, done-that” with the quad Axel? (and the talk of quints and quad-quad combinations?)

Saturday’s was his fourth clean quad Axel in seven attempts this season, but it got substantially the lowest grade of execution (0.36) of the four with positive marks. It was his opening jump in the four-minute free, and, after a stopped-in-your tracks landing, his next two quads, flip and Lutz, were both badly flawed.

And there were still some three minutes to go.

Malinin did not directly answer about letting the quad Axel go now that he has definitively proved he can do it. What he did say could be seen as hinting at it.

“With the whole components factor … it’s probably because you know, after doing a lot of these jumps, (which) are difficult jumps, it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” he said.

“Even though some people might enjoy jumping, and it’s one of the things I enjoy, but I also like to perform to the audience. So I think next season, I would really want to focus on this performing side.”

Chen had told me essentially the same thing for a 2017 Ice Network story (reposted last year by NBCOlympics.com) about his several years of ballet training. He regretted not being able to show that training more because of the program-consuming athletic demands that come with being an elite figure skater.

“When I watch my skating when I was younger, I definitely see all this balletic movement and this artistry come through,” Chen said then. “When I watch my artistry now, it’s like, ‘Yes, it’s still there,’ but at the same time, I’m so focused on the jumps, it takes away from it.”

The artistry can still be developed and displayed, as Chen showed and as prolific and proficient quad jumpers like Uno and the now retired two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan have proved.

For another perspective on how hard it is to combine both, look at the difficulty it posed for the consummate performer, Jason Brown, who had the highest PCS scores while finishing a strong fifth (280.84).

Since Brown dropped his Sisyphean attempts to do a clean quad after 26 tries (20 in a free skate), the last at the 2022 U.S. Championships, he has received the two highest international free skate scores of his career, at the 2022 Olympics and this world meet.

It meant Brown’s coming to terms with his limitations and the fact that in the sport’s current iteration, his lack of quads gives him little chance of winning a global championship medal. What he did instead was give people the chance to see the beauty of his blade work, his striking movement, his expressiveness.

He has, at 28, become an audience favorite more than ever. And the judges Saturday gave Brown six maximum PCS scores (10.0.)

“I’m so happy about today’s performance,” Brown told media in the mixed zone. “I did my best to go out there and skate my skate. And that’s what I did.”

The quadg0d is realizing that he, too, must accept limitations if he wants to achieve his goals. Ilia Malinin can’t simply jump his way onto the highest steps of the most prized podiums.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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