LONDON: Russian-born Elena Rybakina stunned former champion Simona Halep in straight sets to reach a maiden Wimbledon final.
The 23-year-old’s relentless display of powerful hitting proved too much for 2019 winner Halep as a 6-3, 6-3 victory booked a Saturday showdown with third seed Ons Jabeur.
Rybakina, who was born in Moscow and still lives there, dodged Wimbledon’s ban on Russian players having switched to represent Kazakhstan four years ago.
That decision, taken in order to receive more funding, has paid dividends for both parties as the world number 23 became the first Kazakh player to reach a grand slam final.
Halep had blitzed her way past seeded opponents Paula Badosa and Amanda Anisimova as she looked for a third major title.
But the Romanian could not buy a first serve, with nine double faults to Rybakina’s five aces telling its own story.
It was a double fault, followed by a fizzing forehand winner, that gave Rybakina an early break.
Things went from bad to worse for Halep at the start of the second with two more double faults, the second on break point, putting Rybakina seemingly in control.
This time Halep was able to break back, but her good work was immediately undone by another serving blip.
At 5-3 on the Halep serve Rybakina struck the killer blow, a booming backhand down the line to secure her place in the final.
“Simona is a great champion but I was really focused today and really happy with my performance,” she said.
Jabeur downs Maria in pulsating contest
When Jabeur sealed the match point that made her the first Arab to reach a Grand Slam final at Wimbledon all she could think of was rushing over to her vanquished barbecue buddy at the net to give Tatjana Maria the tightest of hugs.
While Jabeur’s coach Issam Jellali jumped to his feet with raised arms to join 15,000 cheering fans in hailing the first African woman to reach the title match, Jabeur simply smiled as she ended Maria’s remarkable run with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory.
On the eve of the contest, Jabeur had vowed that the “hug at the end will be amazing” and she was not wrong.
The two players held each other across the net for what seemed an eternity, with both whispering into each other’s ears.
With the cheers still ringing around Centre Court, Jabeur pulled Maria to her side of the court and joined in the applause to salute a 34-year-old who had become the first mother of two in a Wimbledon semi-final since Margaret Court in 1975.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s a dream come true from years of work and sacrifice. I’m happy that’s paid off and I’ll continue for one more match,” Jabeur told the crowd
Before the players stepped on court, American great Billie Jean King said Jabeur was “using tennis as a platform to help Tunisia, help Africa and help Arabs” and the Tunisian did just that as she beat Maria for the first time in a main Tour-level match.
“I’m a proud Tunisian woman standing here today – I know in Tunisia they are going crazy right now,” said the third seed who until this week had never gone past the last eight at a major.
RESULTS: Women’s singles: Semi-finals: O Jabeur bt T Maria 6-2, 3-6, 6-1; E Rybakina bt S Halep 6-3, 6-3