Moscow-born Elena Rybakina backed by Russian Tennis Federation after reaching Wimbledon final

·13 min read
simona halep vs elena rybakina live score wimbledon 2022 latest - REUTERS
simona halep vs elena rybakina live score wimbledon 2022 latest - REUTERS

Elena Rybakina made history by becoming Kazakhstan's first ever grand-slam finalist on Thursday. But her Russian roots are giving Wimbledon the greatest headache, as the prospect of her victory fueling Vladimir Putin's propaganda machine became a very real possibility.

The All England Club went out on a limb to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes in response to the war in Ukraine, and incurred a six-figure fine and the removal of ranking points at Wimbledon. That could come to feel almost futile if a Moscow-born player is handed the trophy by the Duchess of Cambridge on Saturday after all.

The Russian Tennis Federation's president Shamil Tarpishchev responded to news of Rybakina's victory by telling Russian media: “Lena can win Wimbledon. Everything is deserved. It's great that everything turned out this way, we will root for her."

Rybakina, 23, switched to represent Kazakhstan four years ago, to benefit from better funding from the federation. After her semi-final win over Simona Halep on Thursday, she baulked at questions about whether she felt "Russian at heart".

"What does it mean for you to feel?" she said. "I mean, I'm playing tennis, so for me, I'm enjoying my time here. I feel for the players who couldn't come here, but I'm just enjoying playing here on the biggest stage, enjoying my time and trying to do my best.

"I'm playing already for Kazakhstan for a long time. I'm really happy representing Kazakhstan. They believed in me. There is no more question about how I feel. It's just already long time my journey as a Kazakh player. I played Olympics, Fed Cup.

"Even today for my match, for example, our president of the federation came to support me. It's really a big thing. It's unbelievable support which I just appreciate. It was a history what I did already, so for me it's something which I will never forget."

simona halep vs elena rybakina live score wimbledon 2022 latest - GETTY IMAGES
simona halep vs elena rybakina live score wimbledon 2022 latest - GETTY IMAGES

She avoided disclosing whether she still has a home in Moscow, where her parents live, only saying she does not spend much time in Russia: "I'm based on tour because I'm traveling every week. I practice in Slovakia between the tournaments. I had camps in Dubai. So I don't live anywhere, to be honest."

It is a shame that Rybakina's stunning run to the final will be overshadowed, especially after her near-flawless demolition of former champion Halep in straight sets. Halep was the major favourite, on a 12-match winning streak at Wimbledon that stretched back to her title win in 2019.

But 17th-seed Rybakina put all that aside as she stormed to 6-3 6-3 victory in 1hr 16mins. While Halep chased balls around the court grunting loudly, Rybakina moved like a silent assassin, combining lightning serves and bullet forehands to push her opponent back behind her baseline. Halep had no option but to defend all match long - usually her strong suit, but Rybakina gave her very little to work with.

She kept up her reputation as the best server this fortnight with five aces, including top speeds of 121mph. Meanwhile Halep faced break points on nearly every single one of her service games, such was the pressure Rybakina applied, and hit nine double faults, buckling at key moments.

Rybakina will face Ons Jabeur for the title, and when asked about the prospect of being presented with the Venus Rosewater Dish come Saturday by royalty, Rybakina said it would be "an honour".

"Actually, I didn't even think about this yet," she said smiling. "But for sure it's an honour and I'm going to be very excited for this moment no matter if I win or lose. I think it's just something to remember, and it's going to be amazing."

Rybakina reaches Wimbledon women's final, as it happened

05:37 PM

The stage is set

We will have a first time grand slam winner in the women's draw when Rybakina meets Ons Jabeur in Saturday's final.

Two players with very contrasting styles. Either way, history will be made. Recap Rybakina's resounding win over Halep below.

05:31 PM

More from Rybakina

I don't know how to describe it in English, it was really good, today I was mentally prepared and did everything I could and it was an amazing match.

I think it's going to be a great match [against Ons Jabeur], she's a great player, very tricky player, it's not going to be easy to play against her drop shots and volleys. I think it will be a great match and I will enjoy it, I think I already did the work so it's time to enjoy it out on court.

simona halep vs elena rybakina live score wimbledon 2022 latest - GETTY IMAGES
simona halep vs elena rybakina live score wimbledon 2022 latest - GETTY IMAGES

05:22 PM

Rybakina reacts

It was a great match. Simona [Halep] is a great champion and we had many tough matches before. I was really focused today and I'm really happy with my performance because I think I played really solid today.

I was nervous of course but I think the matches before helped me with my first match on Court One the other day and today was Centre Court for the first time but I think the atmospheres I've had have helped me. When I came out I was nervous but I'm really happy I managed to win.

05:16 PM

The winning moment for Rybakina

05:14 PM

The winning moment for Rybakina

05:11 PM

Halep 3-6, 3-6 Rybakina* (*denotes next server)

A ninth double fault by Halep makes it deuce. Her serve has been a problem all match.

Halep forehand into the tramlines. Match point Rybakina.

RYBAKINA RETURN WINNER. The Russian born player is through to her first grand slam final.

What a performance.

05:03 PM

Halep* 3-6, 3-5 Rybakina (*denotes next server)

Deep Halep return, she gets a short ball and puts away a forehand winner, 30-15. Rybakina responds with a big 119mph first serve, 40-15.

Another deep Halep return, she runs up the short ball and puts away a forehand winner, 40-30.

Rybakina ace to hold. She's one game away from the final.

05:00 PM

Halep 3-6, 3-4 Rybakina* (*denotes next server)

Huge cheers from the crowd as Halep holds. But she's running out of time to break back again!

Wimbledon - AP
Wimbledon - AP

04:57 PM

Halep* 3-6, 2-4 Rybakina (*denotes next server)

No issues on serve this time for Rybakina as she holds to 15 swiftly. Halep will have to hope the level of Rybakina drops enough for her to fight back sooner rather than later.

04:53 PM

Halep 3-6, 2-3 Rybakina* (*denotes next server)

Halep double faults again, 15-15. She then misses a backhand up the line, 30-30. Great speed by Halep to stay in the point but Rybakina keeps her composure to finish with a volley winner, break point.

An eighth double fault by Halep and Rybakina breaks again. Wow.

04:50 PM

Halep* 3-6, 2-2 Rybakina (*denotes next server)

First chance for Halep to break serve as she moves to 0-30. Rybakina nets a backhand, 0-40. Three break back points.

Rybakina backhand long and Halep does break for the first time. Could that be a turning point in the match?

04:45 PM

Halep 3-6, 1-2 Rybakina* (*denotes next server)

Great hustle by Halep to reach a Rybakina drop shot and flick a forehand down the line which Rybakina deflects out, 30-0.

Halep backhand into the net, 30-15. Rybakina backhand into the net, 40-15. Halep holds when Rybakina nets a return.

04:42 PM

Halep* 3-6, 0-2 Rybakina (*denotes next server)

More deep groundstrokes by Rybakina and Halep shanks a forehand out of play, 30-15. Halep wrong foots Rybakina with a forehand winner, 40-30. But Rybakina holds when Halep nets her return.

Wimbledon - AP
Wimbledon - AP

04:38 PM

Second Set: Halep 3-6, 0-1 Rybakina* (*denotes next server)

Early pressure on the Halep serve as she is pushed to 30-30. Rybakina just misses with a backhand down the line, 40-30.

Rybakina steps in and rifles a huge forehand return, Halep puts up a defensive lob and Rybakina blasts away a drive forehand winner.

Halep has to get low to deal with Rybakina's deep groundstrokes and she puts a cross court forehand wide, deuce.

Halep double fault, break point. Another double fault and Rybakina breaks. Ouch.

04:31 PM

Halep* 3-6 Rybakina (*denotes next server)

An ace to start the game from Rybakina, 15-0. Too much power again from Rybakina as she hits a forehand winner, 30-0.

118mph ace from Rybakina, three set points. Halep hangs in the game with a backhand winner. Deep Halep return catches out Rybakina, who mis-hits a backhand into the net.

Halep forehand into the net and the first set goes to Rybakina.

04:25 PM

Halep 3-5 Rybakina* (*denotes next server)

Shot of the day from Halep, who despite being off-balance, hits a backhand winner down the line, 30-0.

Halep with a forehand into the net, 30-30. Halep double fault, set point.

Halep saved it with a carefully backhand up the line after bringing Rybakina to the net with a short ball, deuce.

Relief for Halep as she holds when Rybakina fails to return a wide first serve.

04:21 PM

Meanhwhile...

04:20 PM

Halep* 2-5 Rybakina (*denotes next server)

Rybakina nets an attempted forehand down the line, 15-15. Huge forehand cross court winner by Rybakina, 30-15.

Halep seems to be constantly playing defence at the moment against the power hitting from the other side of the net.

But Rybakina shows delicate touch with a sliced backhand which zips off the sideline and Halep can't get the ball back in play.

04:16 PM

Halep 2-4 Rybakina* (*denotes next server)

Rybakina forehand return winner off a Halep second serve, 15-15. Big time hitting.

Rybakina then goes just wide with a cross court forehand. She challenges and Hawkeye says the ball was in, 15-30.

Halep backhand into the net, two break points. Halep saves the first with a forehand winner.

Halep turns defence into attack, drives to the net and Rybakina nets a backhand. Huge chance missed.

And Halep holds when Rybakina slices a forehand long. A vital hold.

04:09 PM

Halep* 1-4 Rybakina (*denotes next server)

Halep is having to weather a heavy hitting storm from Rybakina at the moment. But whenever Rybakina goes for a drop shot it is tending to go wrong, 30-30.

Wide serve by Rybakina and Halep puts her return wide. Rybakina hangs onto the lead with Halep gets a short ball but puts her forehand long.

Wimbledon - GETTY IMAGES
Wimbledon - GETTY IMAGES

04:06 PM

Halep 1-3 Rybakina* (*denotes next server)

Rybakina tries a subtle drop shot but gets it wrong and Halep punishes her with a forehand winner, 30-15. Rybakina blasts a flat cross court backhand and finishes with a forehand drop shot, 30-30.

More massive hitting from Rybakina to earn a break point. Halep finds her first serve and Rybakina nets, deuce.

Halep does finally get on the board when Rybakina hits a backhand long.

04:01 PM

Halep* 0-3 Rybakina (*denotes next server)

Rybakina consolidates the break with more huge hitting from the baseline. She won 13 of the opening 17 points played so far.

03:57 PM

Halep 0-2 Rybakina* (*denotes next server)

Early problems for Halep as she slips to 0-30. But she recovers to 40-30 when Rybakina nets a forehand.

Huge forehand by Rybakina and she finishes with an overhead winner. Break point Rybakina when Halep double faults.

And she gets the early break with a deep forehand that Halep can't get back into play.

03:54 PM

First Set: Simona Halep* 0-1 Elena Rybakina (*denotes next server)

Ideal start to the match by Rybakina as she hits two winners to hold to love.

She's had aguably the best serve in the tournament this year.

03:50 PM

Here we go

02:34 PM

Good afternoon

Welcome to our live coverage of the Wimbledon 2022 semi-final between Simona Halep and Elena Rybakina.

Halep won the title in SW19 in 2019, but she missed the chance to defend her crown in 2020 because the tournament was cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic. She then missed a second opportunity last year because of an injured left calf.

"That was the perfect match of my life," Halep said of her straight-sets victory over Serena Williams three years ago. "Now I'm playing really well. I'm feeling confident that I feel the game the way I felt back then."

Halep, this year's No 16 seed, has extended her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches and reached the semi-finals for the third time by beating Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-4 on Centre Court.

The Romanian, who is making her 10th appearance at Wimbledon, is the only Grand Slam champion left in the women's tournament. She claimed the French Open in 2018 before taking the title at the All England Club the following year.

"I'm different. I play different. I play well now. All the matches were different than in 2019," Halep said. "I think every match I got a little bit better. I had tough opponents, and I did what I had to do every day."

Seventeenth seed Rybakina defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on No 1 Court in her quarter-final.

The 23-year-old Kazakh, who is playing at Wimbledon for only the second time in her career, lost in the fourth round last year.

Rybakina dropped her first set of the tournament but broke Tomljanovic early in the second and third sets. She finished the match with 15 aces.

"I think that the key, of course, is my serve, aggressive game," Rybakina said of the match against Halep. "She's a great champion. She's moving really well, reading the game. I just try to do my best, focus on things which I can control: my serve, my shots, emotions."

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