Wimbledon: A left-handed Czech and a champion, one few saw coming | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Wimbledon: A left-handed Czech and a champion, one few saw coming

By, Mumbai
Jul 15, 2023 11:31 PM IST

Marketa Vondrousova became the first unseeded women’s singles #Wimbledon champion, leaving Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur a tearful runner-up for the second year in a row

In 2022, for the third time in her young career, Marketa Vondrousova missed six months of the tour due to injury. Heading into Wimbledon this year, she was ranked 42 in the world, and had just one win to her name in four appearances in the tournament. Yet, on Saturday, she completed a most remarkable fortnight of tennis to lift the famous Venus Rosewater Dish.

Czech Republic's Marketa Vondrousova celebrates with the trophy after beating Tunisia's Ons Jabeur to win the final of the women's singles on day thirteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships(AP)
Czech Republic's Marketa Vondrousova celebrates with the trophy after beating Tunisia's Ons Jabeur to win the final of the women's singles on day thirteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships(AP)

Up against sixth seed Ons Jabeur in the final, playing in one of the most famous sporting arenas in the world, the 24-year-old showed incredible skill and temperament. Charging to a 6-4, 6-4 victory, she claimed her first Grand Slam title, becoming the first-ever unseeded player to be crowned the women’s singles champion at Wimbledon.

Over the past few years in women’s singles, seeing first-time major champions has become common. In the past three years alone, we’ve had Sofia Kenin, Barbora Krejcikova, Emma Raducanu, Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka win their first Grand Slam titles.

Now, there’s a new name on that list with Vondrousova stealing the spotlight. Along with Martina Navratilova, Jana Novotna and Petra Kvitova, she joined another illustrious list of Wimbledon women’s singles champions from Czech Republic.

“There must be something about Czech left-handers and that whippy forehand,” Martina Navratilova had gushed in approval from the commentators’ box on Thursday as Vondrousova was dismantling fan favourite Elina Svitolina in the semi-finals, sending forehand winners streaking across the forecourt repeatedly. Still, the odds were stacked against her.

The emotion thus was there for all to see as Vondrousova closed out the match on Saturday. She collapsed on the hallowed turf in tears, her family members in the stands too in tears. The former junior world No.1 had come a long, long way. She lost in the final of the 2019 French Open and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics but this time, she was at the top of the mountain. Despite being pegged back by injuries consistently, she had never stopped believing.

“I had a cast on last year at this time,” she said on-court after her triumph. “After everything I’ve been through, it’s amazing that I’m standing here holding this trophy. Tennis is crazy.”

“I just enjoyed these two weeks so much. It was exhausting, but I’m so grateful and proud of myself.”

Jabeur’s missed opportunity

As inspiring as Vondrousova’s run was, though, the final may also be remembered as Jabeur’s missed opportunity.

The 28-year-old was in her second successive Wimbledon final, having also finished runner-up at last year’s US Open. She was the favourite heading into this match against Vondrousova. However, she seemed to be battling herself for the most part and never managed to settle into a rhythm.

After coming back from a set and break down to beat second seed Sabalenka in the semi-finals, Jabeur was brutally honest as she assessed her progress.

“I’m very proud of myself. Maybe, the old me would’ve lost this match,” she had said. “I’m very glad I kept digging very deep and finding the strength. I’m learning to transform the bad energy into the good one.”

In the final, though, this struggle against bad energy was one Jabeur couldn’t conquer. As early as the fourth game itself, she was furious after making an unforced error, banging her thighs repeatedly in disgust. She did well to recover and earn a break to go 4-2 up but Vondrousova stormed back to win the next four games and close out the set.

At the start of the second set too Jabeur looked lost and made four unforced errors to be broken. It seemed Vondrousova would run away with the contest but the Tunisian then had her most promising phase of the match and won the next three games.

There had been a dramatic shift in momentum but sadly for Jabeur’s fans, it didn’t last long. She was broken in the next game, yelling and gesturing at her box in the process, before Vondrousova won four of the next five games to complete her fairytale run.

It was a contest between two highly crafty players, but one that was always on Jabeur’s racket. She was the one dictating play and going for outright winners as she usually does. It was just that her shot-making wasn’t coming off as consistently as she needed it to. She hit 25 winners compared to Vondrousova’s 10, but she also committed 31 unforced errors compared to her opponent’s 13. She had worked hard on her mental approach over the past six months but this time there was a sinking feeling throughout her time on court.

“I think this is the most painful loss of my career,” Jabeur said on court, bursting into tears after lifting the runner-up plate. “It’s going to be a tough day today but I’m not going to give up. I’m going to come back stronger and win a Grand Slam one day… I want to thank my team for always believing in me. We’re going to make it one day, I promise you.”

There is little reason to doubt Jabeur will fight for the Wimbledon title again, but for now it’s all about Vondrousova and her phenomenal journey to arguably the most coveted trophy in the sport. She wowed audiences with her skilful drop shots and lobs but what stood out, especially in the final, was her composure under pressure.

Even as Jabeur went through a rollercoaster of emotions, Vondrousova remained unperturbed and held firm. Having faced more than her fair share of setbacks in quick time, her steely resolve was unmissable. Now, she’s a Wimbledon champion and her supporters will hope this is just the start of a wondrous journey.

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