Rybakina refused to play Jabeur’s game

Ons Jabeur’s unorthodox style of slice-and-dice won her many fans during The Championships at Wimbledon 2022. But it relies on the opponent giving her relatively short or easy balls that she can turn into drop shots or angled slices. 

These are offensive shots. It’s much harder to hit a good slice off a deep, heavy ball pushing you backward, and it’s almost impossible to direct that blistering pace into a feathery dropshot. 

Elena Rybakina won Wimbledon 2022 by figuring this out. She beat Jabeur by refusing to play her puff game. Instead, Rybakina smacked 119 mph serves and hammered deep groundstrokes that forced Jabeur into errors.

Though she struggled to find the range early, she stuck with her plan and eventually hit Jabeur off the court to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. 

“I was super nervous during practice and in the morning,” Rybakina said after the victory. “I was trying to convince myself that hopefully it’s not the last time I’m in the final. I didn’t start well. But I told these things to myself and focussed completely on what I had to do. I focussed point by point.”

“I needed time to adjust to her game. It was super hot. In the end I was just running to all these drop shots.”

Rybakina at first seemed at a disadvantage playing Jabeur’s brand of mini-tennis. But she learned quickly to take Jabeur’s short stuff and use it for superior court positioning. Dropshots depend on the element of surprise, and Rybakina was increasingly poised to pounce on them.

“I didn’t play my best tennis,” said Jabeur after the match. “She started to be more aggressive and stepped in and put a lot more pressure on me. She made less mistakes. It’s frustrating to play someone who serves really big.” 

Rybakina noted how her parents always wanted her to have fun on the court. “When I started to play tennis, I never thought about money. I know how expensive it is. It was just a joy to play tennis. Many times I went to tournaments and didn’t think about the prize money. Winning is a big amount but I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

She also didn’t really know how to celebrate her victory. Jabeur, known as “the Minister of Happiness”, joked that she should teach Rybakina. “She doesn’t do a big celebration. I need to teach her how to celebrate,” said Jabeur. “Maybe because she’s shy, she doesn’t show her personality. But her game speaks for her.”

words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media, all rights reserved