Marketa Vondrousova arrived at the All England Club a year ago without being able to play tennis. She had a cast on her surgically repaired left wrist, so her visit was limited to touring London with her sister and cheering on a friend who was competing at Wimbledon.
This trip was much more memorable: she leaves as a Grand Slam champion.
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Vondrousova became the first unseeded woman to win Wimbledon on Saturday, coming back in each set for a 6-4, 6-4 victory over 2022 runner-up Ons Jabeur in the final.
“I really don’t know what’s happening now. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Vondrousova, a 24-year-old left-footer from the Czech Republic, said during the trophy ceremony. “After everything I’ve been through, I had a cast last year (at) this moment, it’s just amazing that I can be here and sustain this. Tennis is crazy.”
After sitting out from April to October, she finished last season ranked 99th. She reached Wimbledon 42 and was the first unseeded woman to reach the final at the All England Club in 60 years. The latest, 1963 runner-up Billie Jean King, sat in the front row of the royal box on Saturday with Kate. , Princess of Wales.
After the match, King greeted Vondrousova with a hug, telling her, “Unseeded first. I love it.”
Center Court’s retractable roof was closed for the final, shielding everyone from the wind that exceeded 20 mph (30 kph) outside, and that perhaps allowed Vondrousova’s soft lefts to repeatedly find the desired mark. His shots did not reveal the kind of tension that Jabeur’s shots showed.
Vondrousova lost in the 2019 French Open final as a teenager. This afternoon, she trailed every set, but she picked up the last four games of the first, then the last three games of the second.
How did you plan to celebrate?
“I’m going to have some beer, maybe,” Vondrouova said, drawing laughter from the fans. “It was a really exhausting two weeks. And I just tried to recover for the last few days. I was really nervous before the game and I’m really grateful.”
Jabeur fell to 0-3 in major finals. The 28-year-old Tunisian is the only Arab woman and the only North African to have reached that far in singles at any Grand Slam tournament.
But she lost to Elena Rybakina at the All England Club 12 months ago and to No. 1 Iga Swiatek at the US Open last September.
“I think this is the most painful loss of my career,” Jabeur said, pausing to wipe away tears.
“Today is going to be a difficult day for me, but I’m not going to give up,” he said. “I’m going to come back stronger and win a Grand Slam one day.”
Vondrousova’s rise to her Slam title was hard to imagine at the start of this fortnight.
She had gone 1-4 in previous Wimbledon appearances, only once reaching the second round on her grass courts, before going 7-0 in a streak that included wins against five-seeded opponents.
Against No. 6 Jabeur, Vondrousova fell a bit behind. In the first set, she trailed 2-0, then 4-2, before scoring 16 of the last 18 points.
In the second set, the deficits were 3-1 and 4-3.
But Jabeur’s errors kept coming: she would finish with 31 unforced errors, while Vondrousova made just 13.
During the break between sets, Jabeur made his way to the locker room. When he came out again, he immediately made another mistake and the spectators made a lot of noise to show their support for him. Another mistake gave Vondrousova a break point, and Jabeur gave it away with another shot into the net. The match had 45 minutes to go and Vondrousova led by a set and a break.
So, that’s when Jabeur started something of a change. She took three straight games to take the 3-1 lead, showing signs of perhaps the kind of comebacks she created after dropping the first few sets before beating Rybakina, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka and 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.
The crowd was rooting for the popular Jabeur, nicknamed the Minister of Happiness for her behavior on and off the pitch, and the level of support they were providing was increasing along with her level of play.
It didn’t last.
Vondrousova overcame that problem and, with her husband on hand for the first time during the tournament, went all the way. Her first wedding anniversary is on Sunday.
As Vondrousova finished the match by reaching to deflect a volley, she fell to the grass, then lay on her back, covering her visor and face with her hands, happier than ever on the surface.