Elena Rybakina: ‘My coach acquired a tattoo of my identify. It’s loopy however we had a wager’

Elena Rybakina: ‘My coach acquired a tattoo of my identify. It’s loopy however we had a wager’

In February 2020, as Elena Rybakina’s stand up the rankings turned unattainable to disregard, she and her coach, Stefano Vukov, made a mischievous wager in the course of the Qatar Open. If she gained Wimbledon, he stated, he would get a tattoo of her identify. She recorded his pledge, however then forgot about it. Covid struck quickly after, and as an alternative she spent the following two years making an attempt to recuperate her type.

Immediately, Vukov carries Rybakina’s identify and the date of this 12 months’s Wimbledon remaining in indelible ink on his proper arm, a everlasting reminder of this golden summer season. A month in the past, Rybakina capped off her startling rise to the massive stage in July by profitable her first grand slam title at Wimbledon.

“I already forgot [about the bet] – we have been laughing round,” Rybakina says. “Earlier than the ultimate, he advised me that he would do it. So, he did it. For me, it’s nonetheless loopy, I can’t imagine it. However it’s what it’s. We had a wager.”

Rybakina’s run to the Wimbledon title was by no means surprising, nevertheless it was nonetheless outstanding. She scuppered two grand slam title winners in Bianca Andreescu and Simona Halep, then was ice chilly in her first grand slam remaining as she overpowered Ons Jabeur, the second seed. Her harmful serve, which recurrently hits 120mph, was at all times current within the large moments.

The times that adopted have been a blur. Rybakina was greeted by lots when arriving residence, then obtained an Order of Friendship medal from the prime minister of Kazakhstan, Alikhan Smailov. She pledged to donate the bonus she obtained from the Kazakh Federation to canine rescue and junior tennis within the nation. For a relaxed, introverted particular person, the highlight was intense.

“It was very nice to see, particularly children, how joyful they have been to see me. They have been hugging, taking footage. Nevertheless it was really very robust for me simply because there have been many actions. I didn’t have a lot relaxation, to be sincere.”

Elena Rybakina with the Wimbledon trophy and native kids in Nur-Sultan. {Photograph}: Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters

Rybakina’s time at Wimbledon had offered sufficient exterior noise. With the All England Membership remaining steadfast on its ban on Russian gamers due to the invasion of Ukraine, the deeper she went into the event the extra her identification as a Moscow‑born participant who selected to symbolize Kazakhstan to advance her profession was interrogated. In Kazakhstan, Rybakina responded to a query by displaying her passport to the viewers.

Even past her identification, Rybakina’s path is noteworthy. Whereas her friends have been making ready for the skilled tour as kids, she was taking part in for enjoyable in group periods after highschool. “I used to be at all times desirous to go after college as a result of my pals are there, we’re having enjoyable on court docket. I by no means thought that, ultimately, I’m gonna keep skilled,” she says.

Rybakina’s trajectory modified after a fruitful junior profession yielded presents to play at US schools. As she stood at that crossroads, she satisfied her involved father to let her strive the skilled recreation. After monetary issues and a nationality change, the construction offered by her first non-public coach, Vukov, in 2018 led to her stand up the rankings.

Watching the pair in apply is at all times noteworthy. Rybakina is as calm and understated as any athlete, whereas Vukov is frantic and intense, delivering criticism and suggestions continuously. The week earlier than Wimbledon produced a very memorable sight on the apply courts at Eastbourne when she turned exasperated by his nagging whereas returning 135mph service bombs of Alexander Bublik. The present world No 47 seen the strain and closed off the session by suggesting Vukov step as much as face the fastballs. There was greater than a smirk on Rybakina’s face because the aces flew previous her coach.

“I’m a really calm particular person and he’s very lively,” Rybakina says. “He has a lot vitality and I feel it really works effectively for us as a result of we’re utterly totally different. He’s at all times pushing me to be higher and this works. I’ve had nice outcomes with him. We’ll see how lengthy and what number of extra achievements we are able to make collectively.”

Elena Rybakina and her coach, Stefano Vukov, after her Wimbledon victory.
Elena Rybakina and her coach, Stefano Vukov, after her Wimbledon victory. {Photograph}: Paul Marriott/Shutterstock

Regardless of fulfilling a lifetime aim, tennis gives no alternative for relaxation and introspection. Rybakina returned to competitors a couple of weeks after Wimbledon, dropping 6-0 within the third set of her opening spherical match in San Jose towards Daria Kasatkina. She fared significantly higher on the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, reaching the quarter-finals.

On account of the WTA’s removing of rating factors from Wimbledon in response to the ban on Russian and Belarusian gamers, Rybakina has fallen two spots to No 25 on the earth regardless of her triumph. She should now consolidate her success whereas being liable to drawing high gamers early on the US Open, which begins on Monday, and past.

“It’s by no means sufficient, I feel. The aim is to win many extra grand slams. For this 12 months, my aim was to be high 10,” she says after which laughs. “Nonetheless it’s the identical aim as a result of I didn’t transfer within the rating. It’s simply the final grand slam of this 12 months, to try to get so far as I can.”

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