When Ons Jabeur and Elena Rybakina meet in Saturday’s Wimbledon final it will be the fifth edition running that a first-time women’s champion will go through the wood-panelled revolving-doors of the All England Club.
The fast-paced merry-go-round of champions that has become a feature of the women’s game, with Australian holder Ash Barty not even playing anymore, is in stark contrast to the ‘same old, same old’ of the men’s game at Wimbledon for almost two decades.
Since 2003, only four men — Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — have lifted the Challenge Cup.
While the Big Four of men’s tennis have become accustomed to setting records pretty much every time they step on court, Saturday’s women’s final will be no less momentous no matter who wins out of Jabeur and Kazakh Rybakina.
Third seed Jabeur, Tunisia’s so-called “Minister of Happiness”, will be out to lift the spirits of an entire continent as she targets becoming the first African woman, as well as the first Arab, to win a Grand Slam title.
She already has vivid visions of what that moment will be like.
“A lot of times I imagined myself giving a good speech, holding the trophy, seeing the trophy,” said world number two Jabeur on the eve of a showdown that will feature two first-time Grand Slam finalists for the first time since 1962.
“I did all of it. Now I need to really hold the trophy. I will be ready to do my part. Hopefully they will write my name on the (roll of honour) board there (at the entrance of) Centre Court.”
Jabeur’s face is already plastered on giant billboards all over Tunisia and, with the final taking place as the country celebrates Eid ul-Adha, she hopes to make July 9 2022 a day to remember as she aims to bamboozle Rybakina with an abundance of “slices and drop shots” that she knows “annoys a lot of people”.
“I want to go bigger, inspire many more generations. Tunisia is connected to the Arab world, is connected to the African continent. We want to see more players,” said the trailblazer.
“It’s not like Europe or any other countries. I want to see more players from my country, from the Middle East, from Africa.
“It’s amazing to really inspire the new generation. Just to show that nothing is impossible.”
Rybakina also believes in the “nothing is impossible” mantra as the Russian-born 23-year-old bids to become the first Kazakh to win a singles major.
The big-hitter struck 144 winners, including 49 aces, as she flattened six opponents, including Grand Slam champions Bianca Andreescu and Simona Halep, to reach the final.
However, rather than being asked about the damage she causes with her destructive serves or her bone-rattling groundstrokes, Rybakina has found herself under the spotlight due to her links with Russia.
With Russian and Belarussian players banned from the grasscourt major following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Rybakina would have been excluded from this year’s Wimbledon had she not switched allegiance to Kazakhstan four years ago.
But as she stands on the cusp of making history for her adopted nation, she has found herself swatting away questions about the country of her birth including: ‘In your heart do you feel Russian still?’ and ‘Do you consider yourself someone who still lives in Moscow or are you based in Kazakhstan?’
Showing the non-committal diplomacy of a world leader, Rybakina has dealt with the awkward questions by giving answers such as: “I’m travelling every week. Most of the time I spend on tour. So I don’t live anywhere.”
Rybakina is now relishing the challenge of facing the Tunisian in a final that will showcase a contrast of styles.
“We are going together on this journey … it’s just amazing that you are making history,” said the 17th seed, who had been climbing up the rankings in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic stalled her progress.
“Of course I’m going to be nervous. But it’s a challenge for me to be stable, to be strong mentally, and try to do my best. I know how Ons plays. She knows how I play. We know each other well.”