Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, one of the most unlikely Wimbledon champions, is no more likely.
On Saturday, Vondrousova beat Ons Jabeur, a Tunisian trailblazer and heavy favorite, in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, surprising herself, her family and friends, and the tennis world in the process.
Vondrousova, 24, became the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon and the last in a long line of Czech-born women to lift the sport’s highest trophy, dating back to Martina Navratilova’s dominance of Wimbledon in the 1990s. 1980, after Navratilova defected to the United States.
Like Navratilova, who watched the match from a box, Vondrousova is a left-hander with a poor slice serve that she used throughout the afternoon in the most tense moments when Jabeur tried to take control of the match or mount yet another comeback.
The similarities to Navratilova, an aggressive serve-and-volleyball who got her start in the sport as a teenager, end there.
Vondrousova, who won an error-ridden match that made up for what she lacked in quality with a surprise, is now the top player under the radar after going three-for-three in crushing tennis fairy tales. She beat Naomi Osaka at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, just days after Osaka lit the Olympic flame as favorites to win the home gold medal.
On Thursday, Vondrousova beat Elina Svitolina, a new mother from Ukraine who put together a spirited run to the semifinals that inspired her nation’s people as it defended against an invasion of Russia.
On Saturday afternoon, it was Jabeur’s turn to have her dream shattered by Vondrousova’s tricky and unorthodox play in a tournament Vondrousova said was impossible to win given her poor record of success on grass.
“When we arrived, I thought, ‘Try to win some matches,’” Vondrousova said. “Now that it’s happened, it’s crazy,” Vondrousova said.
She’s had plenty of company asking her the same question, considering she had her wrist in a cast following surgery during Wimbledon last year. This time, Vondrousova’s husband chose not to come see her play here until Saturday, opting instead to stay home and care for their hairless Sphynx cat.
After Vondrousova defeated Svitolina in the semifinal, Stepan Simek struggled to find a nanny and flew out to watch his wife play in the Wimbledon final. On Sunday, they planned to celebrate their first anniversary.
“There will be a day when we have grandchildren and I look forward to the day when I can tell the story of their grandmother winning Wimbledon,” said Simek.
Vondrousova’s best friend and doubles partner Miriam Kolodziejova said that she did not believe Vondrousova could win the singles title.
“It’s like a dream come true for us,” she said.
For Jabeur, defeat in her second consecutive Wimbledon final against an opponent who had achieved far less than other women she defeated on her way to the precipice of tennis history was nothing short of heartbreaking. Jabeur has now lost three of the last five Grand Slam finals, coming close to becoming the first woman of Arab and African descent to win tennis’s top championships.
Like most tennis players, she has long dreamed of winning Wimbledon and last year used a photo of the women’s trophy as her phone’s lock screen.
Jabeur started fast, breaking Vondrousova’s nervous serve several times in the first set. She played tight from the start but held a 4-2 lead in the first set as she began to unravel, sending forehands into the net and backhands floating past the baseline.
Before she knew it, Jabeur was down a set and had lost serve to start the second. For her part, Vondrousova was doing everything she needed to, keeping the ball in play, whipping out her curling, spinning shots that were so different from the power Jabeur had faced in her last matches.
Jabeur established himself and even opened another advantage in the second set at 3-1, but lost the ability to recover once again, struggled to find the court and sent many balls to the middle of the net. She has lost five of her last six games.
Vondrousova finally ended Jabeur’s nightmare afternoon with an open-court backhand volley, and another woman from the Czech Republic went on to win Wimbledon, stunning anyone who could have imagined such a scenario, but not with Vondrousova in the lead role.
“My coach told me after the final, he said, ‘I can’t believe how calm you are,’” Vondrousova said. “That was the main key to this title.”
As the ball twice bounced out of reach, Jabeur, known as the “Minister of Happiness” for her often brilliant demeanor, took off her headscarf and began her slow, sad and increasingly familiar march towards the net.
Vondrousova took a while to get there. She had landed on the grass at the end of the full stop. She got up to hug Jabeur and was soon back in the middle of the court, kneeling, trying to understand how she had managed that improbable run. Jabeur sat in his chair and wiped away his tears.
There was more during the trophy ceremony, when Jabeur held the runners-up crosspiece in one hand and covered his eyes and nose with the other.
“This is the most painful loss of my career,” she said, before trying to channel whatever positivity she could muster.
“I’m not giving up and I’m coming back stronger,” she told a crowd who were finally able to cheer her on the way they wanted all afternoon.
For Vondrousova and Czech tennis, the celebrations were just beginning. The Czech Republic, with a population of around 10.5 million people, has become a women’s tennis factory unlike anything else in the sport. There are eight Czech women in the top 50, most of them, like Vondrousova, in their 20s or younger.
When the tournament started, Petra Kvitova, ranked 10th in the world, looked like the most likely Czech finalist. A two-time Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, Kvitova had won a grass court tournament in Berlin just a few weeks earlier.
Vondrousova had only won two matches on grass court and had not competed at Wimbledon for two years. However, a month ago, Vondrousova had seen Karolina Muchova, another talented and low-key Czech with a game that defies this era of strength tennis, fall short of winning the French Open. She and Muchova are members of the same tennis club at home, Vondrousova said. And she cried when Muchova lost in three sets to world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Watching Muchova inspired Vondrousova, who reached the 2019 French Open final when she was just 19. Muchova’s career was also hampered by injuries, but there she was playing on one of the biggest stages in the sport.
Like Muchova, Vondrousova didn’t know at first whether doctors would be able to fix her wrist problem. The injury sidelined her for an extended period, and Simek said it made her appreciate tennis more.
“You just can’t play, play tennis as a job, you have to enjoy it, you have to love it,” Simek said. “She really likes and loves the game. She even likes to watch the game and I think few players like it that way.
At Wimbledon, Muchova lost in the first round, but Vondrousova began a steady march through seven opponents that included five top seed players and several, including Jabeur, who were known for their prowess on grass. In the quarterfinals, with the score of the third set, 4 to 1, Jessica Pegula had a game point to advance, 5 to 1, but Vondrousova caught fire and won the last five games to win the set, 6 to 4.
Then came their final two games against opponents playing for causes much bigger than themselves, a weight that can energize and empower, but also unnerve and overwhelm a player.
Against Vondrousova, Svitolina and Jabeur came to center court steady and flat, shadows of the players who thrilled crowds and promised a comeback that would be talked about for years, if not decades. On the other side of the net was Vondrousova, a player best known for body art on her arms, who had made a bet with her coach, Jan Mertl, a former Czech player, that if she won a Grand Slam he would get a tattoo to commemorate the triumph.
Holding the winner’s plate, Vondrousova said she would go to the tattoo parlor on Sunday.
David Waldstein contributed reports.