Elena Rybakina’s 2022 Season: Grand Slam Champion Outside the Top 20?

Elena Rybakina with the Venus Rosewater Dish.

With early losses to Shelby Rogers and Lesia Tsurenko in the warm-up events, things weren’t looking great for Elena Rybakina coming into Wimbledon. At least she was able to play it though as while she is of Russian origin and was born in Moscow, she has been representing Kazakhstan since 2018 and therefore didn’t get hit by the ban imposed by the LTA on players from Russia and Belarus.

Elena Rybakina in 2022

Blasting her way through a tough draw

Rybakina’s draw in London was absurdly tough from the get-go. In the first three rounds, she had to face the 2015 and 2017 quarterfinalist and expert grass-court player Coco Vandeweghe, the runner-up from one of the warm-up events in Bad Homburg Bianca Andreescu, and the up-and-coming prospect Qinwen Zheng. The Kazakh managed to defeat them all in straight sets with one tie-breaker each.

Iga Swiatek’s shock loss to Alize Cornet meant that the draw was opening up and Rybakina was slowly becoming one of the main contenders to win the whole event. Some big obstacles still stood along the way, namely Simona Halep, who won the 2019 edition of Wimbledon. Rybakina’s flat strokes penetrated the grass beautifully though and she was serving extremely well throughout the fortnight.

After blowing Halep off the court in the semifinals, she came back from a set down to beat Ons Jabeur to clinch her maiden Grand Slam title. It was unexpected, but it’s not like it didn’t make sense as the 23-year-old was known to have a very high ceiling when she redlines her game.

As Wimbledon didn’t award points due to the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian players, Rybakina couldn’t take the usual leap in the rankings that Grand Slam champions usually do. She finished the year as the World No. 21 with 1860 points. If you added 2000 to it, the 23-year-old would be safely inside the top 10 and inside the WTA Finals field.

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What else?

Did she suffer from the usual slump that maiden Slam winners tend to get? Yes and no. While she only won one match in her first two events after Wimbledon, she was only losing to some of the other best players of 2022, Cori Gauff and Daria Kasatkina (worth mentioning that if she landed the 2000 points for triumphing in London, these draws would have looked completely different). However, at the US Open, she suffered a shock exit to Clara Burel in the opening round, another player with brilliant weaponry (the forehand especially), but little regulation to her game.

Rybakina’s 2022 wasn’t just Wimbledon, though, and she did produce a few very strong results otherwise. She made the final in the opening week of the year in Adelaide (lost to Ashleigh Barty) and then after the US Open in Portoroz (lost to Katerina Siniakova). In the bigger events, she was able to reach a couple of quarterfinals at the WTA 1000 level, getting to the last eight stage in Indian Wells and Cincinnati.

Overall, her campaign was pretty much built on that one success, but even (sort of) without it she almost made the top 20. With her scale of talent, it can’t be excluded that she might win a Grand Slam event again in the future. It’s going to be interesting to see how she handles her different position in the sport now. The ranking is one thing, but she’s achieved something historical and will forever be remembered for that.

Main Photo from Getty.