As the Wimbledon women’s singles final kicked off Thursday afternoon, a new mother from Ukraine, the first woman from an Arab country to win a Grand Slam singles title, or the possibility of facing a Belarusian player in a match. It will be filled with wartime tension.
When it was over, Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina was out, but Anz Zabiur’s dream was still alive after a comeback victory over Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka. Sabalenka would have been world No. 1 with a win on a hostile center court, but instead, the wily and athletic Jaber of Tunisia showed his skills and talent in a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6 victory. -3 wins.
Up to a set and a half, Sabalenka outlasted Jabur, and he advanced to the final in two games to take the top spot. But with one set down and 4-2 in the second, Jaber dug in. She found a way to manage Sabalenka’s racket serves, took advantage of an increasingly aggressive opponent and won 10 of the next 13 games to set up a date for Saturday’s final. She ended Svitolina’s improbable run with a 6-3, 6-3 straight sets win against Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova.
“Crazy match,” said Jaber, a wonderful figure for the Arab world. “There is one more match.”
In Wondrousova, Zabiur faces an opponent with a deceptively slim resume but a penchant for destroying emotional narratives. At the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Vondrousova knocked out national and international star Naomi Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron in the opening ceremony, en route to a silver medal.
Against Svitolina, she showcased all the great skills that make up her varied game – wrists, rolling forearms; drop shots; A thirst to move towards the net to finish points at every opportunity. Being left-handed also helped. This usually forces opponents to adjust to different spins than they would normally face and to change the direction of their attack in their attempts to get the ball into her backhand.
But it’s safe to say that many didn’t consider Vondrousova a finalist when the tournament began two weeks ago. A year ago, at Wimbledon, she was a performer, recovering from wrist surgery and watching her friend and doubles partner Miriam Kolodzijova in singles qualifying before spending a week as a tourist in London.
Even more surprising, the 24-year-old Vondrousova has never made it past the second round in four attempts at Wimbledon. She has never fancied herself as a grass-court player, although her game, which has some pop when she needs it but doesn’t rely on power, bears a striking resemblance to Jabur’s game in last year’s final.
“I feel like we’re similar in some ways,” Vondrousova said of Jabur. “We play drop shots. We play slices.”
Now he plays Jabir.
When Wimbledon began, there was much talk of a new Big Three in the women’s game in Sabalenka, Elina Rybakina and Ika Svitek, winners of the past four Grand Slams. All three are tall and powerful, and they often throw their opponents off the court.
The last two women standing are Vondrousova and Jaber, who beat Rybakina on Wednesday before beating Sabalenka. In the second set of Thursday’s match, Zapier converted two breaks of Sabalenka’s serve when he needed it most. At set point to even the match, Jaber hit a backhand on Sabalenka’s second service line and jacked her chair with her finger in her ear as if the crowd would scream for her as loud as they could. Then she took the finger and waved it in the air as Sabalenka moved closer and closer to her.
Zabeer, 28, came within a package of winning the tournament last year and was given a hero’s welcome at the airport when he returned to Tunisia. She is the highest-ranked African or Arab player in tennis history, male or female, and has made no secret that a Wimbledon title is her dream.
Last year, a photo of the Women’s Singles Cup was the background of her phone display. He said there was a trophy on that screen again this year, but he didn’t say publicly which one.
Sports psychologists can debate whether Jabeer is more focused on results than process and accepting that anything can happen on any given day, but good things come with hard work and dedication.
Japier, nicknamed the Minister of Happiness because his cheerful demeanor and optimistic outlook can feel unique in an era when many players struggle with their mental health, said watching the trophy works for him.
“I want to know what I want,” he said. “I know if I want that thing bad enough, I’ll get it.”
That, she said, is what keeps her motivated, giving it her all and playing with so much passion and joy.
“It comes with pressure, yes, I understand that, but it’s something I want so badly,” he said of the trophy film. “As long as I know where I’m going, I believe I can do it as long as I give it my all. I think this will help me a lot.
The crowd gathers. The fans were with her from Thursday, especially against Sabalenka, who, like all Russians and Belarusians, was banned from Wimbledon last year because of her country’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In recent days, as Sabalenka neared the final, there had been concern that Catherine, Princess of Wales, who traditionally presents the trophy to the singles winner, might be forced to give it to Sabalenka.
Zabir saved the monarchy from those embarrassing consequences. He has taken four Grand Slam winners to the final, surviving one of the tournament’s toughest draws and three three-set matches.
He will be looking to win one more match and the most important title in the sport against the man who beat him twice this year.
“I’m going to get my revenge,” she said with a smile.
Vondrousova is one of the Czech talents. Last month, Vondrousova’s friend Karolina Muchova, 26, lost two games to win the French Open. The country of 10.7 million people has eight women in the top 50.
Among them, Vondrusova is ranked seventh at 42nd. He was ranked world No. 1 as a junior and reached the French Open final in 2019, but has not advanced to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam since. She may be the longest shot among them to reach the finals.
Early on, she beat two solid players, Veronika Gutermedova and Donna Vekic, who won on grass. She thought she might have some success after that, but still, the end?
“It’s really crazy,” he said. “But I think anything can happen in tennis.”