Russia-Ukraine War

How Russian-born Elena Rybakina Won Wimbledon Following Ban

The Wimbledon champion was born and raised in Moscow, but switched country allegiance as a teenager. Here’s why that matters in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Elena Rybakina
USA Today

Elena Rybakina has given Kazakhstan a reason to celebrate. 

The 23-year-old’s victory at Wimbledon is the first-ever Grand Slam singles win for the country. Rybakina, the second-lowest ranked Wimbledon singles champion at No. 23, has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past year. 

Her ascent to stardom and the recent developments of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put the Russian-born athlete under the spotlight.

Who is Elena Rybakina?

Elena Rybakina is the most recent addition to the winners’ circle at Wimbledon. She defeated Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in three sets on Saturday to capture her first grand slam victory. 

Where is Elena Rybakina from?

Rybakina was born and raised in Moscow. She competed in gymnastics and skating, but upon realizing her height was a challenge in those sports, the eventual 6-footer took up tennis. 

Rybakina eventually moved to Spartak Tennis Club in Moscow and trained alongside former top-10 player Andrei Chesnokov. 

How long has Elena Rybakina represented Kazakhstan?

She started representing Kazakhstan in 2018 at the age of 19. The Kazakhstani offer to support her career reportedly came as Russian officials deemed her not ready to compete at the top of the women’s game.

What was Wimbledon’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

In April, Wimbledon joined the growing number of federations and governing sports bodies around the world that banned athletes from Russia and Belarus in response to the invasion of Ukraine. 

Their statement read: 

“Given the profile of The Championships in the United Kingdom and around the world, it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of Government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible.

“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships.”

This policy meant several of the sport’s preeminent stars, including No. 1 Daniil Medvedev and No. 8 Andrey Rublev, would miss out on the Grand Slam. 

What has Elena Rybakina said about the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Until now, the 23-year-old has largely remained out of the public eye and there’s only limited information available about her switch from Russia to Kazakhstan. However, she gave fans a glimpse of her perspective on Wednesday following her quarterfinal win. 

When asked about the war in Ukraine, she said she hopes it ends “as soon as possible.”

She was also asked about the ban on players from Russia and Belarus. While she didn’t weigh in on the politics of the matter, she shared her thoughts on the banned athletes.

“Everybody wants to compete. They were not choosing where they were born,” Rybakina said. “[I] just hope that next year is going to be back to normal.”

The following day, after her semifinal victory, the matter of country allegiance was revisited. Rybakina reiterated her commitment to Kazakhstan. 

“I’m really happy representing Kazakhstan,” she said. “They believed in me.”

These statements of support don’t keep people from speculating on her allegiance. 

Rybakina is believed to still live and train in Moscow, but when asked about her residence, she was noncommittal, citing her training schedule and traveling on the tour.

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