Wimbledon finalst Elena Rybakina has had to fend off questions about her Russian upbringing after defeating former champion Simona Halep in their semi-final.
The 23-year-old Rybakina muscled past Halep in straight sets, putting an abrupt end to the former World No.1's streak of 21 sets won consectively at Wimbledon, which dated back to her win in 2019.
While the victory was undoubtedly the highlight of Rybakina's emerging career, the Moscow-born 17th seed's presence in the final has resulted in some awkwardness.
Rybakina has represented Kazakhstan since changing allegiances in 2018, and does not have any official affiliation with Russia or the Russian Tennis Federation.
Some questions have been raised with regards to Wimbledon's blanket ban on players from Russia and Belarus in the wake of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The ban was partly introduced to prevent the awkward scenario of a member of the royal family, in this year's case Kate Middleton, from presenting the trophy a Russian player in light of current events.
Asked about her ties to Russia in her press conference immediately after her victory over Halep, a weary Rybakina said she had represented Kazakhstan for years and would continue to do so.
It is becoming a very real possibility that the All-England Club will be handing out winners trophies to Elena Rybakina, who was born in Russia and played as a Russian until 2018, and Nick Kyrgios, who is Nick Kyrgios.
— Ricky Dimon (@Dimonator) July 6, 2022
Skunk-at-the-garden party division: @wimbledon bans Russians…and then a player born in Moscow, who trained in Russia and took Kazakh funding only 4 years ago sits 2 sets from winning title. Yes, her decamping could be spun as a repudiation. But this is, at a minimum, awkward.
— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) July 7, 2022
One that seems inevitable to highlight is that Rybakina, who was born in Russia and represented the country until 2018 before changing to Kazakhstan, is one win away from becoming #Wimbledon champion in the year the tournament banned Russian and Belarusian players.
— Gaspar Ribeiro Lança (@gasparlanca) July 7, 2022
After all that Wimbledon has a Russia born and bred finalist, Elena Rybakina, who switched to Kazakhstan 4 years ago. Beats Simona Halep 6-3 6-3.
— Mike Dickson (@Mike_Dickson_DM) July 7, 2022
“I actually answered this question yesterday and as I said yesterday, I can repeat it now, I’m playing for Kazakhstan for a long time and I’m really happy representing Kazakhstan,” she said when asked if she was 'representing Russia at all in this tournament'.
“They believed in me and there is no more question about how I feel.
“It’s just, already long time, my journey as a Kazakh player. I played Olympics, I played Fed Cup (for Kazakhstan) so I think I gave an answer already yesterday about this.”
Wimbledon finalist Elena Rybakina discusses Russian background
The same reporter continued to press Rybakina on the issue, despite her pointing out that no less than the International Olympic Committee considering her to be representing Kazakhstan.
After she gave her aforementioned answer, the reporter quizzed her as to whether 'In you heart, (you) feel Russian still?'
This line of questioning was met with a glimmer of irritation from Rybakina.
“What does it mean for you to feel (that)? I mean, I’m playing tennis so for me I’m enjoying my time here," she replied.
“I feel for the players who couldn’t come here, but I’m just enjoying playing here on the biggest stage and enjoying my time and trying to do my best.”
Rybakina is the youngest player to reach the Wimbledon final since Garbiñe Muguruza in 2015.
Halep was heavily backed by the Wimbledon crowd, but simply found no way in against the crafty 17th seed.
"I don't know how to describe it but it was really, really good," Rybakina said afterwards.
"Usually, of course, I have ups and downs and it comes from the nerves. But I think today I was mentally prepared and I did everything that I could and it was an amazing match."
After declaring she was in her best form since her 2019 triumph in London, Halep said her opponent deserved to win.
"Somehow I think I gave her the perfect ball to do her game, to feel comfortable on court," said Halep.
"But, as I said, all the credit to her. She deserved to win today with the way I played."
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