MOSCOW-BORN Elena Rybakina is one match away from winning the Wimbledon title at a tournament where Russians are banned.

The 23-year-old dodged the All England Club’s ban, imposed in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, having switched to represent Kazakhstan four years ago.

And after Rybakina beat former champion Simona Halep 6-3 6-3 in the semi-final, Wimbledon faces the very real prospect of a Russian-born winner.

Elena Rybakina is through to a first major final (Steven Paston/PA)

Asked if she still “feels Russian”, Rybakina – who will play third seed Ons Jabeur on Saturday – said: “What does it mean for you to feel? I mean, I’m playing tennis, so for me, I’m enjoying my time here.

“I feel for the players who couldn’t come here, but I’m just enjoying playing here on the biggest stage, enjoying my time and trying to do my best.

“I’m playing already for Kazakhstan for a long time. I’m really happy representing Kazakhstan.

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

“I was born in Russia, yes, but I’m representing Kazakhstan. I don’t know why we have to come back to this.

“Today for my match, for example, the president of our federation came to support me. It’s really a big thing. It’s unbelievable support which I just appreciate.”

Rybakina made the decision to switch allegiances in order to receive more funding, a move that has paid dividends for both parties as the world number 23 became the first Kazakh player to reach a grand slam final.

But her Wimbledon run is still being covered by TV network Russia Today, with the headline on its website reading “Russian-born star storms into Wimbledon final”.

Rybakina’s historic charge to the final is also big news in her adopted homeland.

“I think it’s very important because tennis is becoming even more popular in Kazakhstan,” she added.


“We have so many tournaments there. I think it’s amazing that now on TV, on the news you can see that I’m playing the final, and it’s for the first time.

“My biggest support is the president of the federation and also other people called through him, congratulate me with this result. I think everybody will watch and support me in the final.”

Halep had blitzed her way past seeded opponents Paula Badosa and Amanda Anisimova as she looked for a third major title.

But the Romanian could not buy a first serve, with nine double faults to Rybakina’s five aces telling its own story.

Halep said: “What could I have done differently? Serve. Serve a little bit better.

Wimbledon 2022 – Day Eleven – All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet ClubSimona Halep has exited Wimbledon (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“I improved a lot with my serve in the last three months. But today I feel like I went back to my normal one. Many double faults and too soft.

“Today I was probably a little bit tired, and it didn’t work.

“Her level was very high today. She played really well. She was very solid, consistent and didn’t drop the level.

“But I didn’t do much. Somehow I think I gave her the perfect ball to play her game, to feel comfortable on court.

“But all the credit to her. She deserved to win today with the way I played.”