Marketa Vondrousova Wins Wimbledon and Her First Grand Slam Title

Marketa Vondrousova Wins Wimbledon and Her First Grand Slam Title

Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic became one of the most unlikely Wimbledon champions Saturday, beating Ons Jabeur, a trailblazing Tunisian, in straight sets.

Vondrousova, 24, became the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon and the latest in a long line of Czech-born women to lift the most important trophy in the sport, going back to Martina Navratilova’s domination of Wimbledon in the 1980s, after Navratilova had defected to the United States.

Like Navratilova, who was watching from a box, Vondrousova is a left-handed player with a nasty slice serve that she used throughout the afternoon in the tensest moments when Jabeur tried to take control of the match or mount yet another comeback.

The similarities with Navratilova, an aggressive serve-and-volleyer who burst into the sport as a teenager, mostly end there.

Vondrousova, who won, 6-4, 6-4 in an error-filled match that made up for what it lacked in quality with surprise, is the ultimate under-the-radar player who is now three-for-three when it comes to crushing tennis fairy tales. She beat Naomi Osaka at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, just days after Osaka lit the Olympic flame and was a favorite to win a gold medal on home soil.

On Thursday Vondrousova beat Elina Svitolina, a new mother from Ukraine who mounted a spirited run to the semifinals, inspiring the people of her nation as they defend themselves against Russia’s invasion.

On Saturday afternoon it was Jabeur’s turn to have Vondrousova’s, tricky and unorthodox game crush her dream.

“I don’t know what is happening,” Vondrousova, said on the court at the end of the match.

She had plenty of company asking that question, considering she had a cast on her wrist following surgery during Wimbledon last year. This time, her husband opted not to come watch her play here until Saturday, choosing instead to stay home and take care of their hairless Sphynx cat.

After Vondrousova beat Svitolina in the semifinal though, Stepan Simek scrambled to find a cat-sitter and caught a flight to watch his wife play in the Wimbledon final. On Sunday they planned to celebrate their first anniversary.

For Jabeur, the loss in a second straight Wimbledon final against an opponent who had accomplished far less than other women she beat on the way to the precipice of tennis history, was nothing less than heartbreaking. Jabeur has now lost three of the last five Grand Slam finals, falling just short of becoming the first woman of Arab descent and from Africa to win the most important championships in tennis.

Like most tennis players she has long dreamed of winning Wimbledon and last year used a picture of the women’s trophy as the lock screen on her phone.

Jabeur started fast, breaking a nervous Vondrousova’s serve repeatedly in the first set. She was playing tight from the beginning but holding a 4-2 lead in the first set she began to unravel, sending forehands into the net and floating backhands beyond the baseline.

Before she knew it, Jabeur was down a set and had lost her serve to start the second. For her part, Vondrousova was doing all she needed to, keeping the ball in play, whipping her curling, spinning shots that were so different than the power which Jabeur had faced in her recent matches.

Jabeur steadied herself, and even surged to another lead in the second set at 3-1, but her ability to recover disappeared once more, and she struggled to find the court and sent too many balls into the middle of the net. She lost five of the last six games.

Vondrousova finally ended Jabeur’s nightmarish afternoon with a running backhand volley into the open court, and another woman from Czech Republic was the Wimbledon champion, stunning anyone who might have pictured that scenario but just not with Vondrousova in the starring role.

As the ball bounced twice far out of her reach, Jabeur, known as the “Minister of Happiness” for her almost always bright demeanor, whom tennis fans everywhere, especially at the All England Club have embraced, pulled her bandanna from her head and began her slow, sad and increasingly familiar trudge to the net.

Vondrousova was a little late in getting there. She had collapsed on the grass at the end of the final point. She rose to hug Jabeur and soon was back in the middle of the court, kneeling, and trying to figure out how she had pulled off this improbable run. Jabeur sat in her chair and wiped away tears.

There were more during the trophy ceremony, as Jabeur held the runner-up platter in one had and covered her eyes and her nose with the other.

“This is the most painful loss of my career,” she said, before trying to channel whatever positivity she could muster.

“I am not going to give up, and I am going to come back stronger,” she told a crowd that was finally able to roar for her the way it had been wanting to all afternoon.

For Vondrousova and Czech tennis, the celebrations were just beginning. The Czech Republic, with a population of roughly 10.5 million people, 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 them, like Vondrousova, in their mid-twenties and younger.

When the tournament began, Petra Kvitova, ranked 10th in the world, seemed like the most likely Czech finalist. A two-time Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, Kvitova had won a grass court tournament in Berlin just weeks before.

Vondrousova had won just two grass court matches and was two years removed from competing at Wimbledon. A month ago though, Vondrousova had watched Karolina Muchova, another talented, inconspicuous Czech woman with a game that defies this era of power tennis, fell just short of winning the French Open. She and Muchova are members of the same tennis club back home, Vondrousova said. And she cried when Muchova lost in three sets to the world No. 1, Iga Swiatek.

Watching Muchova had inspired Vondrousova, who had made the French Open final in 2019 when she was just 19-years-old. Muchova’s career had also gotten sidetracked by injuries but there she was playing on one of the sport’s biggest stages.

At Wimbledon, Muchova lost in the first round, but Vondrousova began a steady match through seven opponents that included five seeded players and several, including Jabeur, who were known for their prowess on grass. In the quarterfinals, Jessica Pegula had a game point for a 4-1 lead in the final set before Vondrousova caught fire and won the final five games.

Then came her final two matches against opponents playing for causes much larger than themselves, a weight that can both energize and empower but also enervate and burden a player.

Against Vondrousova, both Svitolina and Jabeur arrived on Centre Court tight and flat, shadows of the players who had thrilled crowds and held the promise of being able to pull off a comeback that would be talked about for years, if not decades. On the other side of the net was Vondrousova, a player best known for the body art on her arms, who had made a bet with her coach, Jan Mertl, a former Czech player, that if she won a Grand Slam he would get a tattoo to commemorate the triumph.

Holding her winner’s platter, Vondrousova said they would be heading to the tattoo parlor on Sunday.

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