Moscow-born Wimbledon finalist Rybakina defied ban on Russian players

Will underdog Elena Rybakina win the Wimbledon trophy? How Moscow-born tennis star, 23, who started playing after she was told she was ‘too tall’ to be a gymnast, avoided Russian ban to sail through to Grand Slam final

  • Elena Rybakina was born and lives in Moscow but has been allowed to compete
  • The star, 23, changed loyalties to represent Kazakhstan four years ago
  • She stunned Wimbledon crowds by beating World No 1 Simona Halep 
  • Rybakina will face Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in Saturday’s Wimbledon final 

Moscow-born Elena Rybakina has sailed through to the women’s final of this year’s Wimbledon Championships – despite a ban on Russian athletes.

The tennis star, 23, who still lives in the Russian capital, has managed to dodge the ban by switching her allegiance and will face Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in Saturday’s final on Centre Court.

She is widely regarded as the underdog in the competition – but she will be hoping to repeat her stunning victory over World No 1 Simona Halep in the semi-final.

Her victory has been cheered by Russian-media – ‘Russian-born star storms into Wimbledon final,’ cheered the front page of the Russia Today website.

However four years ago Rybakina decided to represent Kazakhstan in tournaments – and she appears to be fed up of questions about Russia.

Speaking after her sensational win against World No 1 Halep in the semi-finals, she said: ‘I’m playing for Kazakhstan for a long time. I’m really happy representing Kazakhstan.’

Elena Rybakina, 23, who was born and lives in Moscow, has been able to enter this year’s Wimbledon Championships after switching her allegiance to represent Kazakhstan in 2018

Puppy love! The star appears to be a dog lover and has posted photos of herself cuddling pooches on Instagram

‘They believed in me. There is no more question about how I feel. It’s already a long time my journey as a Kazakh player.’

Born in Moscow in 1999, Rybakina has been into sports from a young age and used to compete in several different sports with her sister.

Her groundstrokes are penetrative and she moves with a grace born of those childhood pursuits. 

The 23-year-old was a gymnast and figure skater as a child but was told she was too tall to have a future in either sport.  

Rybakina (pictured in Dubai) posts photos of herself all around the world as she travels for training and touring

Elena is private about her personal life but is occasionally spotted out and about at the theatre and visiting other events while not on court

So she turned her hand to her father’s favourite sport, tennis.

She first picked up a racquet at the age of six and showed a natural flair for the sport.

By the age of 15 she played her first match on the International Tennis Federation circuit in Turkey and turned professional two years later.

Rybakina’s first ever Grand Slam at the age of 20 saw her crash out in the first round of the French Open. But since then she has only continued to shine.

The 23-year-old was a gymnast and figure skater as a child but was told she was too tall to have a future in either sport 

British tennis is fined $1m over their ban of Russian athletes, leaving Wimbledon chiefs fuming

Wimbledon’s row with the international tennis authorities over their ban on Russian players has escalated with the British game hit by an extraordinary series of fines totalling $1million.

Earlier this month, Sportsmail learned that the WTA has secretly fined the Lawn Tennis Association and the All England Club £620,000 and £207,000 respectively as a punishment for excluding Russian and Belarusian players from the warm-up tournaments in Eastbourne, Nottingham and Birmingham.

The All England Club, who run Wimbledon, and the LTA are set to appeal with the backing of the British Government, who reacted angrily when informed of the fines.’Since February the vast majority of the international sporting community have come together in solidarity to condemn Putin’s barbaric actions in Ukraine,’ Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries told Sportsmail.

‘Regrettably the international tennis federations appear determined to be outcasts in this. The LTA and Wimbledon should be praised for their move to make Russia an international sporting pariah, and doing what is right in the current circumstances.’

In another worrying development for British tennis there are also concerns about the appeal process. Sportsmail learned that the WTA will only permit an appeal once the fine has been paid in full, leaving the British authorities no option but to shell out over £827,000 before they can mount their defence.

These concerns are compounded by the fact that the WTA board who will hear the appeal is chaired by WTA chief executive Steve Simon, who was responsible for issuing the original fine.

Wimbledon took a unilateral decision to ban the players following high-level talks with the Government who were concerned about handing a propaganda victory to Vladimir Putin’s regime.

It caused a major split in the tennis world with the ATP and WTA – the men’s and women’s tours – retaliating by removing ranking points from this year’s Championships.  

Off-court Rybakina is fairly private, but she shares snippets of her personal life and behind-the-scenes on tour.

Seemingly a dog lover, the 23-year-old visited a dog shelter in November last year to meet some of the pooches up for adoption.

The rising star also posts photos of herself posing near world landmarks, such as the London Eye and the Eiffel Tower, in places she gets to visit on tour.

Despite being a private and low-key player, she has been court up in controversy during this year’s competition. 

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February Russian tennis players were banned from entering this year’s Wimbledon Championships.

But having represented Kazakhstan since 2018, the 23-year-old is proud of her heritage.

In an Instagram post last September Rybakina smiled while holding up the flag of Kazakhstan. 

She wrote: ‘For the first time the WTA 250 tournament will take place in Kazakhstan in a couple of weeks! 

‘I am very happy about this event and would like to say a big thank you [to the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation].’

She added hosting the tournament was a great opportunity for the ‘development of tennis in the country’.  

Responding to questions at a press conference on Thursday the World No. 23 would not reveal how much time she spends in Moscow.

However she said she primarily trains for tournaments in Slovakia and Dubai. 

‘I don’t live anywhere, to be honest,’ she said. 

Since then, she has tried to navigate difficult questions over whether she sees herself as Russian – of as Kazakh. 

Ahead of the final, she said: ‘It’s a tough question to say what I feel.

‘I was born in Russia, but I am really happy that I’m representing Kazakhstan. They were looking for a player and I was looking for help. 

‘I’m feeling the support of the people because I’m bringing results which are very good for the sport in Kazakhstan.’

Rybakina did admit she felt sorry for the Russians who were barred from competing at Wimbledon. 

But when pressed on her thoughts on the country’s invasion of Ukraine, she said: ‘I just want the war to end as soon as possible.’

As she prepares to take on World No. 2 Ons Jabeur Rybakina will have enjoyed her best Grand Slam performance ever at this year’s Wimbledon Championships.

She is also Kazakhstan’s first ever finalist in a Grand Slam tournament.

The rising star stunned crowds on Centre Court on Thursday as she beat World No 1 Simona Halep, from Romania

Halep and Rybakina shook hands at the net after the underdog pulled off a sensational win to secure her place in the Wimbledon final

Enormous global viewing figures are expected as Tunisian third seed Ons Jabeur and Elena Rybakina, born in Moscow but representing Kazakhstan, seek to make history at Wimbledon 

When Ons Jabeur and Elena Rybakina take to Centre Court their names will be displayed on the scoreboard, each followed by three letters in brackets: Tun; Kaz.

Have those six letters ever been more hotly discussed, ever carried more significance in a Wimbledon final? This is a match about sport and flags, about what an athlete’s nationality means to them and to the rest of us.

Jabeur emerged from a country and a continent with precious little tennis history. The 27-year-old is adored in Tunisia and after her matches here a group of fans has gathered to serenade her as she does her broadcast interviews.

Jabeur is African, Arab and a Muslim – three significantly under-represented demographics in tennis. 

Today is the first day of Eid al-Adha, the most important holiday in the Islamic calendar, and enormous global viewing figures are expected.

A win for the world No 2 could be transformational for grassroots tennis in vast swathes of the globe.

Asked about her national identity, Jabeur said: ‘It’s always about Tunisia, but I want to go bigger, inspire many more generations.

‘Tunisia is connected to the Arab world and to the African continent. I want to see more players from my country, from the Middle East, from Africa.

‘I think we didn’t believe enough that we can do it. Now I’m trying to show that we can. Hopefully people are getting inspired.’

Then there is Rybakina, born in Moscow but playing here under the flag of Kazakhstan, while those from the country of her birth are banned.

The 23-year-old has also spoken well – although understandably more guardedly – about what her nationality means to her.

Russia may be claiming her success as their own but it is Kazakhstan who have financed her career since 2018 and made today possible. Who is to say that the love she feels towards her country for that support is any less authentic than Jabeur’s for Tunisia?

‘They believed in me,’ she said after her semi-final. ‘Today our president of the federation came to support me. It’s really a big thing.’

There is widespread and understandable support from within and without the game for Jabeur to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish. And it would undoubtedly be awkward for Wimbledon to see a Russian-born player raising it instead.

But Rybakina is one hell of a talent and any success she achieves on Saturday or in the future will be predominantly thanks to Kazakhstan, not Russia – no matter what their state-sponsored TV might say.    

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