Wimbledon finalist Elena Rybakina tangled in Russia furore

Wimbledon finalist Elena Rybakina is pictured getting ready to serve at Wimbledon.
Wimbledon finalist Elena Rybakina has represented Kazakhstan since 2018, but her birth in Moscow has raised awkward questions. (Photo by Shi Tang/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

“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.”

Elena Rybakina waves to the Wimbledon crowd as she walks off the court.
At 23 years old, Elena Rybakina is the youngest Wimbledon finalist since 2015. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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."

With agencies

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