Elena Rybakina | Photo: AP
London: Russian-born Elena Rybakina powered back from a set down against Ons Jabeur to win the Wimbledon title on Saturday, denying the Tunisian world number two the chance to make African tennis history.
Jabeur raced out of the blocks but the 17th seed regrouped and dropped just four more games after the first set on the way to a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory.
Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon this year following the invasion of Ukraine but Moscow-born Rybakina was able to play as she had switched her allegiance to Kazakhstan in 2018.
The 23-year-old, who had never previously progressed beyond the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, said she had been "super nervous" before and during the match on a sun-baked Centre Court.
"I did not expect to be in the second week of a Grand Slam at Wimbledon," she said. "To be a winner is just amazing. I don't have the words to say how happy I am."
Jabeur, 27, started the match in style, using dropshots and passing shots to great effect as Rybakina's power game failed to fire.
The Tunisian broke in the third game of the match when the Kazakh went long with a backhand.
Rybakina held twice more despite pressure from Jabeur but then produced an error-strewn service game to gift the set to her opponent.
As the Tunisian celebrated with a fist-pump, Rybakina returned to her chair contemplating a costly 17 unforced errors.
But momentum shifted immediately at the start of the second set as Rybakina broke Jabeur before holding for a 2-0 lead.
She had now found her rhythm and Jabeur had to battle hard to stay in touch as the Kazakh repeatedly chased down dropshots and found the touch she needed to hit finely angled winners.
Rybakina, who stands six feet (1.84 metres) tall, then fended off three break points before breaking again to take a 4-1 lead when Jabeur went long with a forehand.
She levelled the match with an ace as Jabeur reflected on four missed break-point opportunities in the set.
The 23rd-ranked Kazakh was first to strike in the decider, breaking straight away to heap the pressure on Jabeur, who failed to rediscover her sharpness from earlier in the match.
The Tunisian squandered three break points in the sixth game as her frustration mounted and that proved to be her last chance.
Rybakina showed a few nerves in serving out for the match but won with her first championship point when Jabeur went long with a backhand.
She ended the day with four aces, taking her total at this year's Wimbledon to a tournament-leading 53, and 29 winners to 33 unforced errors.
Rybakina was asked at her post-match press conference if the Russian government would be tempted to politicise her triumph.
"I'm playing for Kazakhstan very, very long time," she said. "I represent them on the biggest tournaments, Olympics, which was dream come true.
"I don't know what's going to happen. I mean, it's always some news, but I cannot do anything about this."
Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpischev, however, hailed Rybakina's victory as a triumph for Russia, describing the player as "our product".
"It's very nice! Well done Rybakina! We win the Wimbledon tournament," Tarpischev was quoted as saying by Russian news agency, Ria Novosti.
Jabeur, the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final, was attempting to become the first African woman to win a major.
The player, labelled by Tunisians as the "Minister of Happiness", said she had given everything during her run at the All England Club.
"Of course, I will leave happy, with a smile, big smile always," she said. "Tennis is just a sport for me. The most important thing is that I feel good about myself."
On Sunday, Novak Djokovic goes for a seventh Wimbledon men's title when he faces unpredictable Nick Kyrgios of Australia in the final.
A win would put him level with Pete Sampras and just one behind Roger Federer's men's record of eight.
In the men's doubles final on Saturday, Australian pair Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell, the 14th seeds, beat Croatian defending champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (3/7), 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10/2).
Ebden and Purcell had saved a total of eight match points in previous rounds to make the final.
Pavic, meanwhile, played despite breaking his right wrist in the semi-finals.