It is unlikely that Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic will be among the most likely Wimbledon champions.
On Saturday, Vondrousova beat Tunisia’s leading and heavy favorite Ons Jabeur, in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, stunning herself, her family, friends and the tennis world in the process.
Vondrousova, 24, became the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon, and the latest in a long line of Czech-born women to lift the sport’s most important trophy, returning to Martina Navratilova’s domination of Wimbledon in the 1980s, following Navratilova’s defection. to the United States.
Like Navratilova, who watched the match from inside the penalty area, Vondrousova is a left-handed player with a nasty serve that she used all afternoon in the most tense moments when Jabeur tried to take control of the match or stage another comeback.
The similarities to Navratilova, an aggressive shot putter and player who broke into the sport as a teenager, end there.
Vondrousova, who won a match riddled with errors that made up for her lack of quality with surprise, is now the ultimate under-the-radar player with a 3-on-3 victory in the tennis fairy tales smash. She beat Naomi Osaka at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, just days after Osaka lit the Olympic flame as favorite to win a gold medal on home soil.
On Thursday Vondrousova beat Elena Svitolina, a new mom from Ukraine who participated in a spirited race to the semifinals that inspired her country’s people to defend themselves against the Russian invasion.
On Saturday afternoon, it was Jabeur’s turn to shatter her dream with a tough and unconventional match against Vondrousova in a tournament that Vondrousova said was impossible to win, given her scant history of success on grass.
“When we came in I was like, ‘Try to win two games,'” said Vondrousova. “Now it’s happened, it’s crazy,” Vondrousova said.
She’s had plenty of friends asking the same thing, considering she had a cast on her wrist after surgery during last year’s Wimbledon. This time, Vondrousova’s husband chose not to come watch her play here until Saturday, opting instead to stay home and take care of their hairless Sphynx cat.
After Vondrousova beat Svitolina in the semi-finals, Stepan Simek scrambled to find a cat-sitter and booked a flight to watch his wife play in the Wimbledon final. On Sunday, they planned to celebrate their first anniversary.
“There will be a day when we will have grandchildren and I look forward to the day when I can tell the story of their grandmother winning Wimbledon,” Simic said.
Vondrousova’s best friend and partner, Miriam Kolodjova, said she didn’t think Vondrousova could win the singles title.
“It’s like a dream to us,” she said.
For Jabeur, losing in a second consecutive Wimbledon final to an opponent who had accomplished far less than the other women she has rocked her way to the brink of tennis history was nothing short of heartbreaking. Jabeur has now lost three of her last five Grand Slam finals, falling short of becoming the first woman of Arab and African descent to win the most important tennis tournament.
Like most tennis players, she has always dreamed of winning Wimbledon and last year used a picture of the women’s trophy as a screen lock on her phone.
Jabeur started quickly, breaking Vondrousova’s nervous serve repeatedly in the first set. She played solid from the start but led 4-2 in the first set when she began to unravel, sending forehands to the net and backhands floating beyond the baseline.
Before you know it, Jabeur was down and lost serve to start second. For her part, Vondrousova was doing all she needed to do, namely, to keep the ball in play, her flogging, and her shots were very different from the power Gabor faced in her recent matches.
Jabeur established herself, even jumping out to another lead in the second set at 3-1, but once again lost her ability to recover, struggling to find the court and sending a lot of balls into the middle of the net. I’ve lost five of my last six matches.
Vondrousova finally ended Jabeur’s nightmarish afternoon with a backhand shot on the open court, and another woman from the Czech Republic was the Wimbledon champion, startling anyone who might picture that scenario but not just with Vondrousova in the title role.
“My coach told me after the final, ‘I couldn’t believe how calm you were,'” Vondrousova said. “That was the main key to this title.”
When the ball twice bounced out of her reach, Jabeur, known as the “Minister of Happiness” for her always flamboyant demeanor, pulled her handkerchief from her head and began walking slowly, mournfully and increasingly familiarly towards the net.
Vondrousova was a little late getting there. She had collapsed on the grass at the end of the last point. She rose to hug Jaber and quickly returned to the middle of the field, kneeling, trying to figure out how she made it in that unlikely run. Jaber sat on her chair and wiped away the tears.
There was more during the awards ceremony, as Jaber held the runner-up’s dish with one hand and covered her eyes and nose with the other.
“This is the most painful loss of my career,” she said, before trying to channel any positivity she could muster.
“I won’t give up, and I’ll come back stronger,” she told a crowd that finally managed to cheer her on the way she’d wanted all afternoon.
For Vondrousova and Czech tennis, the festivities were just beginning. The Czech Republic, with a population of around 10.5 million, has become a women’s tennis factory unlike anything that exists in the sport. There are eight Czech women in the top 50, most of whom, like Vondrousova, are in their mid-twenties or younger.
When the tournament started, world number 10 Petra Kvitová looked like the likely finalist for the Czech Republic. A two-time Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, Kvitova won a grass-court tournament in Berlin just weeks earlier.
Vondrousova won only two matches on grass and was kept out of competition at Wimbledon for two years. A month ago, Vondrousova watched Karolina Muchova, another talented, understated Czech woman in a match challenging this age of powerhouse tennis, but falling short of winning the French Open. Vondrousova said she and Muchova are members of the same tennis club back home. She cried when Macova lost in three sets to world number one Iga Swiatek.
Watching Muchova was an inspiration for Vondrousova, who reached the final of the 2019 French Open when she was just 19 years old. Muchova’s career has also been derailed by injuries but it was there she was playing on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
Like Muchova, Vondrousova didn’t know at first if doctors would be able to fix her wrist problem. The injury sidelined her for a long time, and Simic said it made her appreciate tennis more.
“You can’t play, and playing tennis as a job, you have to enjoy it, you have to love it,” Simic said. “She really enjoys it and she loves the game. She even enjoys watching the game and I think a lot of players don’t enjoy it that way.”
At Wimbledon, Muchova lost in the first round, but Vondrousova began a steady run by beating seven opponents including five seeded players and many, including Jabeur, known for their prowess on grass. In the quarterfinals, with the score in the third set at 4-1, Jessica Pegula had a point to go ahead, 5-1, but Vondrousova caught fire and won her last five matches to win the set, 6-4.
Then her last two matches came against opponents who play for reasons much bigger than themselves, a weight that can energize and strengthen a player and burden a player.
Against Vondrousova, Svitolina and Jabeur arrived on center court tight and flat, shadows of players who thrilled the crowd and promised the ability to make comebacks that would have been talked about for years, if not decades. On the other side of the net was Vondrousova, a player known for her body art on her arms, who made a bet with her coach, Jan Myrtel, a former Czech athlete, that if she won a Grand Slam she would be awarded. Tattoo to celebrate victory.
Holding the winner’s plate, Vondrousova said they would be heading to the tattoo parlor on Sunday.
David Waldstein Contribute to the preparation of reports.