Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic became one of the most unlikely Wimbledon champions on Saturday, beating Ons Jabeur, a trailblazing Tunisian, in straight sets.
Vondrousova, 24, became the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon and the latest in a long line of Czech women to lift the sport’s highest trophy, since Martina Navratilova’s dominance at Wimbledon in the 1980s. 1980, after Navratilova defected. to the United States.
Like Navratilova, who was watching from a box, Vondrousova is a left-footed player with a bad sliced serve that she used throughout the afternoon in tense moments when Jabeur was trying to take control of the match or mount another comeback.
The similarities to Navratilova, an aggressive serve and volley player who broke into the sport as a teenager, mostly end there.
Vondrousova, who won 6-4, 6-4 in a mistake-ridden match that surprisingly made up for what she lacked in quality, is the ultimate undercover player who is now three out of three when it comes to crushing tales of tennis fairies. She beat Naomi Osaka at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, just days after Osaka lit the Olympic flame and was one of the favorites to win a gold medal on her home soil.
On Thursday, Vondrousova beat Elina Svitolina, a new mother from Ukraine who ran energetically to the semifinals, inspiring the people of her nation as they fend off encroaching Russia.
On Saturday afternoon it was Jabeur’s turn to make Vondrousova’s complicated and unorthodox play crush her dream.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Vondrousova said on court at the end of the match.
He had plenty of company asking that question, considering he had a cast on his wrist after surgery at Wimbledon last year. This time, her husband chose not to come see her play here until Saturday, preferring to stay home and take care of her hairless Sphynx cat.
However, after Vondrousova beat Svitolina in the semifinal, Stepan Simek scrambled to find a babysitter and flew out to see his wife play in the Wimbledon final. On Sunday they planned to celebrate her first anniversary.
For Jabeur, losing in a second straight Wimbledon final against an opponent who had accomplished far less than other women she defeated on her way to the precipice of tennis history was nothing short of heartbreaking. Jabeur has now lost three of the last five Grand Slam finals, falling on the verge of becoming the first woman of Arab and African descent to win tennis’s major championships.
Like most tennis players, she had long dreamed of winning Wimbledon and last year used an image of the women’s trophy as her phone’s lock screen.
Jabeur started fast, repeatedly breaking a nervous Vondrousova in the first set. He played steady from the start, but leading 4-2 in the first set, he began to unravel, sending forehands into the net and backhands floating past the baseline.
Before she knew it, Jabeur was down a set and had broken serve to start the second. For his part, Vondrousova was doing everything he needed to do, keeping the ball in play, lashing out with spin shots that were very different from the power Jabeur had faced in his last few matches.
Jabeur steadied and even took another lead in the second set at 3-1, but her recovery ability disappeared once again, she struggled to find the court and sent too many balls into the center of the net. He has lost five of the last six games.
Vondrousova finally ended Jabeur’s nightmarish afternoon with a running backhand volley on the open court, and another woman from the Czech Republic was the Wimbledon champion, shocking anyone who could have imagined such a scenario but not with Vondrousova in the starring role.
As the ball bounced twice out of her reach, Jabeur, known as the “Minister of Happiness” for her almost always brilliant demeanor, who has been embraced by tennis fans everywhere, especially at the All England Club, took off the headscarf and started. its slow, sad, and increasingly familiar path to the web.
Vondrousova was a little late. She had collapsed on the grass at the end of the final point. She rose to embrace Jabeur and soon she was back in the middle of the court, on her knees and trying to figure out how she had pulled off this improbable run. Jabeur sat in her chair and wiped away his tears.
There was more during the trophy ceremony, as Jabeur held the second place tray in one hand and covered his eyes and nose with the other.
“This is the most painful loss of my career,” he said, before trying to channel any positivity he could muster.
“I’m not going to give up, and I’m going to come back stronger,” she told a crowd that was finally able to roar for her as she had wanted all afternoon.
For Vondrousova and Czech tennis, the celebrations were just beginning. The Czech Republic, with a population of approximately 10.5 million people, has become a factory for women’s tennis unlike anything else in the sport. There are eight Czech women in the top 50, most of them, like Vondrousova, in their early twenties or younger.
When the tournament began, Petra Kvitova, ranked 10th in the world, seemed the most likely Czech finalist. A two-time Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, Kvitova had won a grass court tournament in Berlin just weeks before.
Vondrousova had won just two matches on grass and was two years away from competing at Wimbledon. Yet a month ago, Vondrousova had watched as Karolina Muchova, another talented and low-key Czech woman with a game that defies this era of power tennis, came close to winning the French Open. She and Muchova are members of the same home tennis club, Vondrousova said. And she cried when Muchova lost in three sets to world number one Iga Swiatek.
Watching Muchova inspired Vondrousova, who reached the final of the French Open in 2019 when she was just 19 years old. Muchova’s career had also been sidetracked by injuries, but here she was playing on one of the biggest stages in the sport.
At Wimbledon, Muchova lost in the first round, but Vondrousova began a steady march through seven opponents that included five seeds and several, including Jabeur, who were known for their prowess on the grass. In the quarterfinals, Jessica Pegula held game point for a 4-1 lead in the final set before Vondrousova caught fire and won the last five games.
Then came their last two games against opponents who were playing for causes much bigger than themselves, a weight that can energize and empower, but also unnerve and weigh down a player.
Against Vondrousova, both Svitolina and Jabeur arrived on Center Court tight and flat, shadows of the players who had excited the crowd and held promise of a comeback that would be talked about for years, if not decades. On the other side of the net was Vondrousova, a player best known for the body art on her arms, who had made a bet with her coach, Jan Mertl, a former Czech player, that if she won a Grand Slam, he would get a tattoo for her. commemorate the win.
Holding up her winning plate, Vondrousova said they would go to the tattoo parlor on Sunday.