With a display of power tennis that had Center Court gasping, Elena Rybakina reached her first grand slam final with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Simona Halep. But in doing so the 23-year-old has also given Wimbledon a looming headache.
When the All England Club decided to ban Russian and Belarussian players from this year’s tournament, it was partly to try to avoid the scenes of the Duchess of Cambridge presenting the trophy to a Russian-born player.
However after this performance, there is the very real prospect of Rybakina – who was born in Russia and represented her home country throughout her childhood before switching to play for Kazakhstan when she was 19 – lifting the famous Venus Rosewater Dish when she faces Ons Jabeur on Saturday.
Certainly if she plays as well as she did against Aleppo, she will have every chance. The Romanian had won 12 straight matches at Wimbledon, including taking the 2019 title – the longest streak since Serena Williams won 20 matches in a row between 2015 and 2018. But here she was simply blown off court.
“It was a great match,” said Rybakina. “Simona is a great champion. I was really focused today and I was really happy with my performance. I was nervous of course as today was my first time on Center Court but the matches before helped me.”
Rybakina may have been nervous but crucially she was able to disguise it with a conjuror’s sleight of hand. She won the opening game to love, crashing down three unreturnable serves along with a dainty drop shot, and then broke Aleppo in the next to go 2-0 up. Another easy hold followed and the Kazakh was suddenly three games up in just eight minutes.
Aleppo faced a further break point in the next, but was at least able to stem the bleeding. However, finding an answer to Rybakina’s mighty serve – delivered on high from a 6ft frame – and devastating groundstrokes was an altogether more tricky conundrum. A 118mph howitzer earned the Kazakh three set points and when a Aleppo forehand went into the tramlines she found herself a set up in 37 minutes.
If Rybakina’s power was not troubling enough for Aleppo, she found her own game starting to creak, too. Three double faults at the start of the second set immediately put her on the back foot as she was broken and then went 2-0 behind.
The crowd sensed Aleppo might be going down without landing a blow. But Rybakina suddenly threw in a horror show of a service game, shunting the ball repeatedly out of court as she was broken to love.
At 2-2 in the second set, the crowd sensed the momentum was shifting. The problem was Aleppo’s serve was still all over the place. Two more double faults followed as she was broken again. Rybakina, meanwhile, was back on an even keel. She hit three aces – 120mph and 119mph and a 96mph out wide – to go 4-2 up.
Aleppo continued to fight but another double fault and a backhand error at 5-3 down allowed Rykabina to clinch the match and become the youngest Wimbledon finalist since Garbiñe Muguruza in 2015.