Jul 10, 2022
Wimbledon women’s final makes tennis history 7/09/22 Transcript
Elena Rybakina on Saturday became the first ever player representing Kazakhstan to win a Grand Slam. Read the transcript here.
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Nick Schifrin: (00:00)
On the English grass at Centre Court, today’s Wimbledon women’s final was destined to be historic. Elena Rybakina became the first-ever player representing Kazakhstan to win a Grand Slam. She beat Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the first woman from Africa to reach a Grand Slam final. To discuss this, I’m joined from Wimbledon by New York Times tennis correspondent and author Christopher Clarey. Christopher Clarey, welcome to PBS News Weekend. Both women’s stories, of course, are interesting. First, for Rybakina, how did she win, and how did she end up playing for Kazakhstan?
Christopher Clarey: (00:31)
Well, Elena Rybakina is a very powerful six-footer who can run like a deer, to be honest with you. She played a wonderful match today, and started a bit slowly, was nervous. I mean, both women are in uncharted territory for them, not ever having gotten past the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam before in singles, so you didn’t know how they were going to react. Rybakina had trouble with her strokes early, and she really found her rhythm in the second and third sets. Started dominating with her big, flat shots, tracked down a lot of Jabeur’s signature drop shots, and finished it off.
Christopher Clarey: (00:57)
The amazing thing was when she won … this is the biggest moment of her life … it was like she basically had just won the first point of the match. Hardly any expression on her part, hardly any emotion, but the emotion came later in the press conference when she broke down in tears. On the court, you never would’ve known it was her first Wimbledon title.
Nick Schifrin: (01:12)
Tell us about her story. She decided to play for Kazakhstan four years ago. How did that come about?
Christopher Clarey: (01:16)
There have been a number of Russian players over the years, when they’ve been lacking funding at home, who will look to some of the other Soviet republics where the funding’s greater, looking for some athletes who can play certain sports, and they make a shift. She wasn’t the first, but she was in many ways one of the most recent ones to do it. At the time, she wasn’t considered one of the most promising Russian juniors, wasn’t getting the funding that she needed, and so she decided to switch. Doesn’t speak Kazakh. Obviously this language there is Kazakh and Russian, a big former republic. She got coaching, all kinds of support. We just talked to her a few minutes ago, and she was saying she wasn’t sure she would’ve actually won this title if she didn’t have that backing from Kazakhstan.
Christopher Clarey: (01:56)
The timing, of course, is awkward for the club and for people in tennis, because Russians and Belarusians have been banned from Wimbledon this year because of the invasion of Ukraine. I don’t think the All England Club had in mind having a ethnic Russian who grew up in Russia and recently lived there receiving the trophy on the Centre Court today. That wasn’t part of the operational plan.
Nick Schifrin: (02:16)
Well, there’s always politics when it comes to this, so tell us about that decision that Wimbledon made. The other grand slam tennis tournaments have not banned Russians. Why did Wimbledon?
Christopher Clarey: (02:28)
I think it was a combination of factors. You’re right, Wimbledon is really an outlier on this issue in tennis, not so much in world sport but definitely in tennis. The thinking, I think, was the British government, led then by Boris Johnson, was pretty adamant that there had to be some sort of a either concession from the Russian players, that they were to take part in some sort of a denunciation of their government and its objectives in Ukraine or some other sort of gesture.
Christopher Clarey: (02:50)
I felt the club here that runs Wimbledon felt they had to do something, and they didn’t want to make the players basically go against their country publicly. It could have put their families at risk, so they decided to just ban Russians and Belarusians altogether, which it’s been a long time since that happened in tennis, since the post-World War II era with the Germans and the Japanese.
Christopher Clarey: (03:11)
It was pretty extraordinary, and there was a lot of reaction within the tennis tours. They took away the ranking points, which is unprecedented from Wimbledon, which created a lot of backlash. The players who did very well here this year, for example, will not rise in the ranking. Some of them will even drop.
Nick Schifrin: (03:24)
Let’s talk about Ons Jabeur. The crowd seemed to be behind her, certainly, all day. She’s well liked on the tour. She’s known as the minister of happiness. What does she represent for the women’s games?
Christopher Clarey: (03:34)
Well, look. I think people were really excited, and they still are, about Ons Jabeur and all that she can bring to tennis, to sports. There aren’t that many people in the history of this game from Arab nations or from the African continent, on the women’s side, who’ve done particularly well. Ons is an exceptional talent, and she’s very charismatic, extremely likable. Her game is magnetic, all kinds of variety and style and panache there. I think really everybody was primed to celebrate that, and in some ways Elena Rybakina upset the apple cart in that regard.
Christopher Clarey: (04:04)
I think Ons, what she brings is a chance to really reach a whole new audience and market, not just for women’s tennis but for women’s sports. People here in the game and at Wimbledon are very aware of that.
Nick Schifrin: (04:15)
On the men’s side, of course, we should talk about that. Novak Djokovic going for his seventh Wimbledon. He’s facing the fiery, the unpredictable Nick Kyrgios. Could a win for Djokovic, you think, cement his legacy as the greatest of all time?
Christopher Clarey: (04:29)
Look, I personally don’t believe in that debate. I think there’s too much that’s changed over the years to compare the greats of the past long ago with the greats of today. The grand slam tournaments didn’t matter as much in terms of the counting all your numbers of titles, back in the days of Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall and Bill Tilden, if you want to go way back, as they do now. Not everybody played them for a long time either. In terms of this era and what it represents, that number of who has the most grand slam singles titles is big.
Christopher Clarey: (04:55)
Right now, Rafael Nadal, who had to pull out of here with an injury, has 22. Djokovic and Roger Federer have 20, and Djokovic is very, very committed to chasing that number down. He has been number one longer than any other player in this era. He has winning head-to-head records against Nadal and Federer. This is a huge match for him. He may not be able to play the US Open at all, because he remains unvaccinated and may not be able to get into the country, as the way the rules stand right now.
Nick Schifrin: (05:18)
Christopher Clarey of The New York Times, joining us from Wimbledon. Thank you very much.
Christopher Clarey: (05:22)