With a Wimbledon Title, Elena Rybakina Finally Cracks a Smile

Rybakina’s victory at Wimbledon was deeply impressive but not the outcome that most in Centre Court or on the payrolls of the All England Club were yearning for.

Elena Rybakina’s surprise run to the Wimbledon title — full of overwhelming serves, timely winners and underrated defense — was a thing of cruel beauty.

Poker face firmly in place, Rybakina, a 6-foot tower of power, knocked out rising stars like the Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen, former Grand Slam champions like Bianca Andreescu and Simona Halep and in Saturday’s final, the No. 2 player in the world, Ons Jabeur.

But however impressive, it was clear that this was not the outcome that most of those in the crowd or on the payrolls of the All England Club were yearning for.

The timing was all wrong, even if the 23-year-old Rybakina’s timing from the baseline was often pitch perfect.

You could sense the buzz kill on Centre Court, whose denizens roared for Jabeur from the start but greeted Rybakina and her victory, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, politely.

You could feel the letdown on Wimbledon’s player lawn, where tennis officials and a large group of Jabeur supporters, all dressed up with no title to celebrate, were well aware of the story line that might have been.

Jabeur, nicknamed the Minister of Happiness by her fellow Tunisians, is not only a sympathetic figure, but also a deeply symbolic one as an Arab and African woman succeeding at the highest reaches of a sport that aspires to be truly global.

Rybakina, ranked 23rd, plays for the vast and lightly populated nation of Kazakhstan but has never lived there for an extended period. She is a Russian who was born, raised and, until this year, based in Moscow, where her parents and many of her closest friends still reside.

Wimbledon once feted another tall, blonde Russian newcomer when Maria Sharapova won the title by surprise in 2004 at age 17. But Rybakina’s arrival comes at an awkward moment for those with Russian connections. The tournament barred all Russian and Belarusian players (and journalists) this year because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The move came after pressure from the British government led by outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has had a much worse weekend than Jabeur has had. But the ban was also put in place to deprive Russia and its leadership of the chance to use any Russian success at the tournament for propaganda.