Marketa Vondrousova was only 19 when she sailed into her first Grand Slam final. After losing to Ashleigh Barty at Roland Garros in 2019, it seemed that going forward there would be more major opportunities.
But her left wrist, the very fulcrum of her forceful game, could not sustain the stresses of professional tennis. After multiple surgeries across three years, she struggled to find her game or any sense of rhythm.
Coming into Wimbledon, most of the attention (deservedly so) was focused on defending champion Elena Rybakina, French Open champion Iga Swiatek and Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka. Vondrousova? She returned to the All England Club for the fifth time with only a single win here to her credit.
- Vondrousova defeats Jabeur at Wimbledon; wins first Grand Slam title
- 'A huge moment for you and Czech tennis': Wimbledon final social buzz
- How words of wisdom comforted Jabeur after Wimbledon setback
And now, in the narrow window of a fortnight’s time, she’s won seven in a row. The last came Saturday, a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Ons Jabeur for the title.
It’s difficult to overstate how ridiculously unlikely this run to the title was. Vondrousova, ranked No.42 among Hologic WTA Tour players, is the first unseeded and second-lowest ranked player to take home the Venus Rosewater Dish in the Open Era.
She’ll enter the Top 10 on Monday, and the overarching question is this: Can she maintain this level of success?
“If she stays healthy, I think Top 10 is sustainable,” nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova texted after the match.
Like Vondrousova, Navratilova plays left-handed. Like Vondrousova, she was born in Czechoslovakia, which became the Czech Republic. Navratilova had a terrific vantage point, sitting beside her wife, Julia Lemigova, in the Royal Box.
Navratilova also pointed out health will be critical. When she’s at 100 percent, Vondrousova has proved difficult to beat.
It’s impossible to know how Vondrousova’s career will play out given the history of recent first-time champions is decidedly mixed, but Rybakina might be a good comparison for Vondrousova.
Rybakina was 23 years old and coincidentally ranked No.23 coming into last year’s Wimbledon. And while she already had a big game, she wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a favorite.
Not only did she win her first major, against Jabeur in the final, but Rybakina backed it up by getting to this year’s Australian Open final and winning titles in Indian Wells and Rome. Defending her title this year, Rybakina won the first set against Jabeur before losing in three sets. Rybakina is now the No.3 player in the world.
Belief is the coin of the realm in professional tennis and, for a fortnight at least, Vondrousova had a pocketful of change.
“I think I was just, like, open-minded,” Vondrousova said. “I didn’t have much stress till today. I think you just have to believe in yourself. I was just trying not to think much about the title and everything. I think you just have to stay focused and just have the small circle around you, just do the same things as you always do.”
Vondrousova came into the final with the most break-point conversions and, sure enough, she had six more against Jabeur. And while she doesn’t have the kind of raw power we see from Sabalenka and Rybakina, she has enough to complement her strengths of movement, vision and guile.
Vondrousova was just 17, playing ITF events, when she won her first title at the WTA Tour level. It was in Biel, Switzerland, where she defeated Sabalenka in the second round of qualifying and Anett Kontaveit in the final.
That was more than six years ago. Incredibly, her second career title came Saturday at Wimbledon.
The wrist, the same thing that sent Juan Martin del Potro into retirement, has been a constant, chronic problem. Vondrousova’s 2019 season ended after a first-round loss at Wimbledon, and she played only 18 matches the following year.
Healthy again in 2021, she reached the final at the Olympics in Tokyo, going home with the silver medal. The wrist injury returned in 2022, and she played only 17 matches and finished the year with a No.99 ranking.
Already the 1st unseeded make the #Wimbledon final in the Open Era, No.42 Marketa Vondrousova is the lowest-ranked women's champion in #Wimbledon history.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) July 15, 2023
Junior No.1 to RG finalist to Silver Medalist to Wimbledon champion.
Vondrousova makes her Top 10 debut on Monday.
She’s had some solid results this year, but nothing to suggest what was to come. Vondrousova reached the fourth round at Indian Wells and Miami but, ranked No.80, had to qualify in Madrid before advancing to the fourth round in Rome. She lost in the second round at Roland Garros and in the quarterfinals, on grass, in Berlin.
So what happened at Wimbledon?
Clearly, Vondrousova is healthy again and, just as clearly, she has a broader perspective at the age of 24.
“I was 19 the first [major] final,” Vondrousova said. “I just remember it was such a stress. I just wanted to do well. It was a big thing in Czech. Everybody was talking about it. I think [Barty] just crushed me. I just told myself if this happens again, you have to enjoy every moment.
“When we were coming here, I was like, ‘OK, just play without stress, just try to win a couple of matches.’ Then this happened.”
In the quarterfinals, Jessica Pegula had a break point for a 5-1 third-set lead and somehow Vondrousova escaped, winning the last five games. In the final, Vondrousova summoned another remarkable comeback. After Jabeur broke her at love to take a 4-2 lead in the first set, Vondrousova won 16 of the next 18 points before continuing to play calm, efficient tennis to win her first championship.
“I mean, it's unbelievable,” she said. “I think nobody would have told you this before when we were coming here that I even have a chance to win. I was unseeded. I mean, it's such a crazy journey.”
One that could very well play out again in the near future.