WIMBLEDON, England -- A year ago, Marketa Vondrousova was a spectator at the All England Club, a cast on her left wrist. On Saturday, she hoisted the Venus Rosewater Dish as the champion.
Vondrousova defeated No.6 seed Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-4 to become the first unseeded Wimbledon champion of the Open Era. It was over in a crisp 80 minutes.
“I was a tourist here,” Vondrousova told reporters later. “Yeah, when I was coming back, I didn’t know what’s going to happen, if I can play at that level again. I mean, this seems impossible. On grass, I didn’t play well before. I think it was the most impossible Grand Slam for me to win, so I didn’t even think of it.
“When we came, I was just like, 'Try to win couple of matches.’ Now this happened, it’s crazy.”
Martina Navratilova, beaming in the Royal Box, saw yet another left-hander from the Czech Republic capture the Wimbledon title, following herself (nine) and Petra Kvitova (two).
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For 24-year-old Vondrousova, ranked No.42 among Hologic WTA Tour players, it was her first Grand Slam singles title after reaching the final at Roland Garros in 2019. It was her third win of the season over Jabeur.
“My coach [Jan Mertl] told me after the final, he was like, 'I couldn’t believe how calm you are,’” Vondrousova said. “I think that was the main key to this title, that I just kept believing and kept calm.”
With the title, Vondrousova is projected to make her Top 10 debut, at World No.10, in Monday's new rankings.
Jabeur, meanwhile, lost for the third time in a major final, all in the past year.
“This is very, very tough,” Jabeur said. “I think this is the most painful loss of my career.”
A year ago, Jabeur lost the Wimbledon final to Elena Rybakina and the US Open final to Iga Swiatek. Those defeats weighed heavily on her, and you could see the determination in her face, jaw set, eyes fierce, as she rolled through a loaded draw here.
Jabeur defeated four Grand Slam singles champions in order on the way to the final -- Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka. The last three were Top 10 players, all big hitters, and Jabeur was able to deflect their power with a nimble defense and an array of slices and drop shots.
But Vondrousova was a different kind of player, like Jabeur, a disruptor. A player who thrives by killing opponents softly.
Jabeur was eager to start the match, perhaps too eager. She arrived at the appointed spot in Centre Court eight minutes before the walk-on. While she fiddled with her hands and listened to music, Vondrousova, working her phone, seemed oblivious to the occasion before her.
“Honestly, I felt a lot of pressure, feeling a lot of stress,” Jabeur told reporters afterward. “But like every final, like every match I played, I was telling myself, 'It’s OK, it’s normal. I honestly did nothing wrong. I did everything that I could.'”
Clearly a little out of sorts, Jabeur made some uncharacteristic errors, but when she broke Vondrousova -- at love -- she found herself with a 4-2 lead.
That was when it all came crashing down; Vondrousova won 16 of the next 18 points and four straight games to take the first set. Jabeur served poorly and was broken three times. Vondrousova, playing with patience, absorbed 11 winners by Jabeur -- but there were also a lethal 15 unforced errors.
4 - Only Martina Hingis (three) had fewer grass court wins at WTA events than Marketa Vondrousova (four) in the Open Era prior to winning her maiden Ladies' Singles title in Wimbledon. Fable.#WIMBLEDON | @WTA @WTA_insider pic.twitter.com/ZvxFjmJ8U1— OptaAce (@OptaAce) July 15, 2023
Jabeur rallied, as she has the entire fortnight, breaking Vondrousova and racing out to a 3-1 lead. But the Czech, playing more terrific defense, immediately got it back on serve.
The deal-breaker was the ninth game. Vondrousova, playing close to the baseline and taking the ball early, forced the issue. She was rewarded with two loose forehands from Jabeur to lead 5-4, then served out the match.
After the Princess of Wales, wearing a subline lime-green dress, awarded the sterling runner-up dish to Jabeur, she covered her eyes and sobbed uncontrollably. It was eerily reminiscent of the moment 30 years ago, when Jana Novotna shed tears on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder after she lost the final to Steffi Graf.
Jabeur, now 0-3 in major finals, can take heart. After that devastating loss, Novotna returned to Wimbledon, and in 1998 she was the champion. This time, there were tears of joy.
Kim Clijsters was 0-4 in Grand Slam singles finals before she won the 2005 US Open. Andy Murray lost his first four major finals before breaking through at the 2012 US Open. Simona Halep had lost all three when she finally triumphed at the 2018 French Open.
What did the Princess say to Jabeur?
“Same thing after last year, to encourage me to be strong, to come back and win a Grand Slam, win a Wimbledon,” Jabeur said. “Obviously she was very nice. She didn’t know if she wants to give me a hug or not. I told her hugs are always welcome from me.
“I think things take time with me. It wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully, I will be like the others that failed a couple of times to do it and it will come after.”