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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday July 7, 2022

Jabeur v Rybakina

For the first time in the Open Era, two first-time Grand Slam finalists will meet in the Wimbledon women's singles final.

Photo Source: CameraSport

The women’s singles final at Wimbledon is set, and for the first time in Open Era history it will feature two first-time Grand Slam finalists – No.3-seeded Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and No.17 seeded Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan.

Tennis Express

Here’s what you need to know ahead of Saturday’s showdown:

History made, history on the line

Already we’ve seen a fair bit of history made by each player. Jabeur’s name has become synonymous with trailblazer in recent years as the Tunisian has soared up the rankings as a beacon of light for her country, as well as the Arab world, and the whole of Africa.

Jabeur is the first African women to reach a Grand Slam final since 1959, and the first Tunisian and Arab to ever do so.

It’s something she is extremely proud of:

“It's always about Tunisia somehow,” Jabeur said on Thursday at Wimbledon, after defeating Tatjana Maria to reach the final. “I want to go bigger, inspire many more generation. Tunisia is connected to the Arab world, is connected to the African continent. The area, we want to see more players. It's not like Europe or any other countries. I want to see more players from my country, from the Middle East, from Africa.

“I think we didn't believe enough at certain point that we can do it. Now I'm just trying to show that. Hopefully people are getting inspired.

Rybakina is Kazakhstan’s first singles Grand Slam finalist as well. She was born in Moscow but received very little support from the Russian Tennis Federation, so took up with Kazakhstan. Her heritage is looked at far differently than Jabeur's this week, due to the fact that Russian and Belarusian players have been banned from the Championships due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Let's just say that the chatter in the press room hasn't been as positive.

“I'm playing already for Kazakhstan for a long time,” she said. “I'm really happy representing Kazakhstan. They believed in me. There is no more question about how I feel. It's just already long time my journey as a Kazak player. I played Olympics, Fed Cup.”

Rybakina’s lethal serve and power vs. Jabeur’s craft and variety (but also power)

Rybakina certainly turned some heads with the sheer power she put forth against Halep in Thursday’s 6-3, 6-3 semifinal win – for good reason. The 23-year-old is one of those players that can truly take the racquet out of her opponent’s hands.

She has hit 49 aces and 144 winners in six matches at SW19, and dropped just one set.

But Jabeur has managed even more winners (146) and has held serve in 85 percent of her service games, which is just one percent lower than Rybakina (86).

Additionally, Jabeur has won 47 percent of her return games through her six matches at Wimbledon, which is significantly better than Rybakina’s 30 percent.

But they are just numbers, placeholders for our expectations while we wait for this battle to move to Centre Court. Rybakina proved as much on Thursday when she swept past Halep as the heavy underdog.

Up against one of the best returners in the sport on Wednesday (Halep led all returners in percentage of return games won heading into the semis), Rybakina didn’t blink and held serve in eight of nine service games against the Romanian. She’ll need a similar performance against Jabeur, both from the service stripe and from the return.

Rybakina won 62 percent of her second-serve return points against Halep. Jabeur has been winning 63 percent of her second-serve points at Wimbledon. Something has to give there as well.

Jabeur can do what Halep couldn’t - move Rybakina up and back

The biggest thing missing from Halep’s gameplan on Wednesday was the drop shot and the angle. Was it an ommission by Halep, or did Rybakina's power force her to react rather than act?

The Romanian tried to trade baseline blows with Rybakina, and it simply wasn’t possible. Jabeur will be well-served to rely on her trusty drop shot to see if she can get Rybakina’s footwork tangled up and get her out of position. Nobody on tour has better touch that Jabeur, this is her chance to implement it perfectly in a Grand Slam final – what an opportunity.

Rybakina will need pinpoint serving and lethal baseline play in order to keep Jabeur on her back foot. It’s the only way she can prevent the crafty Tunisian from cat-and-mousing her all day long.

Both players have dominated the short points at Wimbledon, and used it as a key to victory. Saturday should be no different.

Adaptation to Elation 

Rybakina has faced a lot of power players at Wimbledon, from Vandeweghe to Andreescu to Zheng to Tomljanovic to Halep, and Saturday will mark a significant change to that pattern. She knows the drop shot is coming, but how will she adapt, tactically, and can she execute against that type of player?

She will have to. But she can make her life easier by serving and returning with big power and consistency.

Jabeur will have to adapt as well. Very few women hit with the brutal force of Rybakina. That’s why she is 9-1 lifetime at these championships - she plays the type of game that works on grass, no matter who she faces.

It will be up to Jabeur to find a way to defuse the ticking time bomb in Sunday’s final.


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