OH, the irony of it – as Wimbledon and the Royal Family suffered their worst nightmare this summer.
The decision in April to ban Russians and Belarussians from SW19 due to the ongoing war in Ukraine was a bold move but one that divided opinion within tennis circles.
And yet against that political backdrop, it is utterly ironic that the first singles winner of the 2022 Championships was… a Moscow-born player!
Elena Rybakina, who grew up in the Russian capital and is believed to still reside there, added her name to the major rollcall for the first time following a well-earned 3-6 6-2 6-2 victory over Ons Jabeur.
Though she represents Kazakhstan on the international stage and has done so since 2018, the symbolism was not lost on anyone as the Duchess of Cambridge, wearing a bright yellow dress, presented her with the Venus Rosewater Dish on Centre Court.
This image, which was beamed all around the world by camera crews and photographers, is exactly what the All England Club did NOT want when they barred competitors from those two rogue nations.
While her £2milllion winnings will be taxed by the UK government, it will be surely galling for tennis officials to hand over this enormous cheque to someone with such close links to the pariah state.
And irrespective of Rybakina’s personal motives, this was a result that could justifiably be celebrated in the corridors of the Kremlin.
As tennis icon John McEnroe pointed out on BBC TV: “I don’t mean to get into politics but she’s Russian. Her parents live in Moscow.”
The last time two first-time major finalists met for the women’s title at the All England Club was 1962.
As is the erratic and unpredictable nature of women’s tennis these days, a new name was going to be engraved on one of the four major crowns.
On a baking hot day in south-west London – in which hats and makeshift fans were a necessity – it was a woman used to heat of the afternoon sun who earned the first break of serve.
When Rybakina’s mistimed double backhand sailed long – her fourth unforced error of the third game – Jabeur let out a scream of delight and jigged on the hallowed turf.
It proved to be pivotal in the destiny of the first set and as Rybakina’s confidence, accuracy and rhythm started to desert her, Jabeur wrapped up the set in 32 minutes.
Many in this 15,000-seater arena – which is celebrating its centenary – would have expected the world No.2 to stroll to victory on the first day of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic religious holiday.
But then the nerves kicked in, tension gripped the racket hand and Rybakina started to read the direction of the drop shots coming her way.
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Two breaks of serves in the second set and then a 116mph ace enabled Rybakina to draw level after more than an hour of play.
It meant that for the seventh time this century, and second time in a row, a Wimbledon women’s singles final required three sets.
The frustration and annoyance was evident for Jabeur, who threw her racket high up in the air and then unusually hit a Tweener return following a let cord.
Rybakina began the final set as she did the second with a break of serve and this resulted in Jabeur screaming at her box in anger – no more Minister of Happiness it would seem.
The Pimm’s-guzzling fans may have been cheering loudly for Jabeur but she was unable to respond, most notably the failure to convert three break points in game six.
Rybakina, who refused to celebrate match point of this controversial win, becomes the youngest female champion at Wimbledon aged 23 since Czech ace Petra Kvitova (then 21) in 2011.
Beyond that it is the ramifications of this politically-charged success which will be long remembered and debated for years to come.