LONDON: Russians scoffed at Wimbledon’s efforts to keep their compatriots out of the tournament after Moscow-born Elena Rybakina became the first player representing Kazakhstan to reach a Grand Slam final.
Wimbledon barred all Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s championships due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, a decision that was condemned by the men’s and women’s tours as well as a string of top players.
Rybakina, who represented Russia until 2018, unexpectedly filled the void left by their absence from the tournament, with some Russians claiming the 23-year-old as their own.
“Lena lives in Moscow, grew up and became a player here,” former Russian tennis player Andrei Chesnokov, who worked with Rybakina, told championat.com sports website.
“Let’s congratulate the Royal Family, they will have to congratulate someone from Russia.”
Rybakina, who beat Romania’s Simona Halep in straight sets to reach Saturday’s final, will face Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the first Arab player to reach the last stage of a Grand Slam.
In a final of firsts, Russians have a clear favourite.
Shamil Tarpischev, president of the Russian Tennis Federation, congratulated Rybakina on reaching the Wimbledon final and insisted Russia had something to do with her success.
“It’s great that Elena is in the Wimbledon final. She is our product,” RIA news agency quoted Tarpischev as saying.
“Of course we will cheer for her.”
Russian and Belarusian tennis players are still allowed to compete on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tours, but can no longer compete under their countries’ names or flags.
Russian social media users pointed out that Wimbledon’s efforts to sideline Russians had backfired with Rybakina’s success.
“Our tennis player has ridiculed those who initiated the sanctions against Russians,” a sports blogger who identified himself as Alexei wrote.
“Wimbledon could not have done without Russian-born tennis players. But organisers just couldn’t ban every athlete with ties to our country.”
“Wimbledon didn’t want Kate (Middleton) to award the trophy to some tennis players, so they let Rybakina – who represented you know which country until 2018 – into the final,” one Russian Twitter user wrote.
“I guess she is allowed to be awarded a trophy.”