Russian-born Rybakina eyes Wimbledon final despite compatriots’ ban

LONDON: Elena Rybakina will attempt to reach a first Wimbledon final on Thursday, counting her blessings that, despite being a Russian-born player, she escaped the tournament ban on her compatriots.

Rybakina was born in Moscow but switched her nationality to Kazakhstan in 2018 to take advantage of greater financial help.

She now finds herself in the semi-finals at the same tournament from which Russian and Belarusian players were banned following the invasion of Ukraine.

The ban ruled out men’s world number one Daniil Medvedev as well as two-time women’s major winner Victoria Azarenka.

“Everybody wants to compete,“said the 23-year-old Rybakina. “They were not choosing where they born. Of course, I feel for them.”

She admitted she was fortunate to have switched to representing Kazakhstan.

“I think it was very good timing because Kazakhstan were looking for players. I was looking for some help. They believed in me. So I think it was very good combination.”

Standing at 6 feet (1.84 metres), world number 23 Rybakina is the big-hitting star of the women’s tournament, firing an event-leading 44 aces over five rounds so far.

On Thursday, she faces Simona Halep, who hopes to recreate the “perfect match” that delivered the 2019 Wimbledon title.

The former world number one from Romania collected her second Grand Slam crown at the All England Club three years ago.

Her first was at the French Open in 2018.

Jabeur makes history

However, a calf injury ruled her out of the 2021 tournament, sidelining her for three months.

“That was the perfect match of my life,” said 30-year-old Halep as she reflected on the 2019 Wimbledon final, where she defeated Serena Williams for the loss of just four games.

“Now I’m playing really well. I’m feeling confident that I feel the game the way I felt back then. Yeah, only positive things, good memories.”

Halep is the only one of Thursday’s four semi-finalists not to drop a set at this year’s tournament.

She is also the one with the greatest experience, playing in her ninth Grand Slam semi-final.

World number two Ons Jabeur, the first Arab woman to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, tackles close friend Tatjana Maria in Thursday’s other last-four tie.

Jabeur said it would be difficult to face 34-year-old Maria, a mother of two, whom she described as her “barbecue buddy”.

“It is going to be tough to play her (Maria), she is a great friend.

I am really happy she is in a semi-final – look at her now, she is in a semi-final after having two babies. It is an amazing story.“

Germany’s Maria, ranked 103, came back from maternity leave less a year ago after the birth of her second daughter.

The veteran, who saved two match points in the fourth round against 12th seed Jelena Ostapenko, made her Grand Slam debut in 2007.

“To be now here in this spot – I mean, like I said, one year ago I gave birth to my second daughter – if somebody would tell me one year later ‘you are in a semi-final of Wimbledon’, that’s crazy,” she said.