WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — With Serena Williams nearing the end of her career and Ash Barty newly in retirement, Elena Rybakina served her way right into the Wimbledon void.
With some consistency at the biggest tournaments, tennis might just have a new rival for Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka on the women’s tour.
The 23-year-old Rybakina won her first major title at Wimbledon on Saturday — in only her second appearance at the All England Club. She beat Ons Jabeur, another player with the capability of spending a long time at the top of the game, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 on Centre Court.
“I think just now (the) generation is changing a bit and (there are) so many young players,” Rybakina told a roundtable of five journalists. “But I’m pretty sure that in (a) few years, just one player, two, three are going to dominate.
“For now it was Iga with the great strikes. I think she was playing unbelievable. I think also now she’s going to keep doing well. So I don’t know, maybe it’s going to change. Maybe it’s going to be someone new every week.”
Swiatek was upset in the third round at this year’s tournament, ending a 37-match winning streak — only a few weeks after earning her second French Open title.
Williams went out even earlier. The 23-time Grand Slam champion, who is 40 and owns seven titles at the All England Club, lost in the first round. It was her first singles match since stopping in the first round last year because of injury.
The reigning champion until Saturday was Barty. But she retired soon after winning this year’s Australian Open. She was only 25 years old at the time.
All that makes Rybakina one of the early favorites for the U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the season.
“I didn’t really think yet about the U.S. Open and the next tournaments,” Rybakina said. “But I don’t know, so many good players and different players just won Grand Slams in the past so I really don’t know how I’m going to feel there.
“But for sure I think I’m coming there more confident.”
She should have an abundance of that. At Wimbledon, Rybakina led the tournament with 53 aces, almost twice as many as Caroline Garcia in second place with 30.
And she used that serve to get out of trouble late in the match against Jabeur after dropping only her second set of the fortnight at the start of the day.
At 3-2 in the deciding set, Jabeur held three break points at love-40 and was close to getting back on serve.
“I knew I have this big weapon, serve, but it didn’t work out for the whole first set. And Ons, she was using the serve very well,” Rybakina said in her post-match news conference. “I was just thinking that I need these big serves right now because if not, it’s going to be very tough to replay again.”
She got them, and she held. Jabeur didn’t win another game.
“I think she’s one of the best from the young generation,” Jabeur said. “I don’t know how old she is, but she’s really young, I think. She really plays good.”
Besides her play on the grass, Rybakina has also had to answer questions about her nationality. She was born in Russia but switched to play for Kazakhstan in 2018.
Switching allegiances isn’t normally controversial, but the topic has come up several times this year after Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Rybakina called her decision to play for another country “perfect timing.”
“I would say I’m lucky in this because Kazakhstan federation, they were looking at the same time for (a) player to help,” Rybakina said, “and they believed in me, so I think I was just lucky in that moment and we just found each other like this.”
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