WIMBLEDON, England – Marketa Vondrousova couldn’t play tennis at all when she first arrived at the All England Club a year ago. Her visit was restricted to sightseeing in London with her sister and supporting a friend who was competing at Wimbledon because she wore a cast on her surgically healed left wrist.
She is departing as the Grand Slam champion, making this journey much more special.
On Saturday, Vondrousova beat 2022 runner-up Ons Jabeur in the final by rallying in each set to become the first unseeded woman to win Wimbledon.
“When I was coming back, I didn’t know what’s going to happen, if I can play at that level again,” said Vondrousova, a 24-year-old left-hander from the Czech Republic who was the runner-up at the 2019 French Open on clay as a teenager and a silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics on hard courts two years ago. “On grass, I didn’t play well before. I think it was the most impossible Grand Slam for me to win, so I didn’t even think of it. When we came, I was just like, ‘Try to win a couple of matches.’ Now this happened. It’s crazy.”
She finished the previous season rated merely 99th after missing the entire season from April to October. The last unseeded woman to even make it to the All England Club final was 1963 runner-up Billie Jean King, who was seated in the front row of the Royal Box on Saturday with Kate, Princess of Wales. She was ranked 42nd when she arrived at Wimbledon.
Following the match, King greeted Vondrousova with a hug and told her: “First unseeded ever. I love it.”
The Centre Court retractable roof was closed during the championship match, protecting spectators from the gusty 20 mph (30 kph) wind outside and enabling Vondrousova’s fluid strokes to consistently find the target. She also enjoyed playing without having to worry about wind, the sun, or anything else, which brought back memories of her days spent honing her skills on indoor courts in Prague during the colder months.
“I always play good indoors,” Vondrousova said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, maybe that’s going to help me.’”
She trailed in both sets this afternoon, but she won the final four games of the first and the final three games of the second to defeat Jabeur, who was 0-3 in major finals.
The 28-year-old Tunisian is the only Arab and the only woman from North Africa to advance that far in singles at a Grand Slam competition.
“You cannot force things,” the sixth-seeded Jabeur said. “It wasn’t meant to be.”
She suffered defeats against Elena Rybakina at the All England Club last September and No. 1 Iga Swiatek at the U.S. Open.
“I think this is the most painful loss of my career,” Jabeur said Saturday, pausing to wipe away tears.
It was difficult to imagine Vondrousova’s rise to her Slam victory at the beginning of this fortnight.
Prior to going 7-0 and defeating five seeded opponents, she was 1-4 on the grass at Wimbledon and had never once advanced past the second round.
One indicator was the fact that Jabeur, who admitted to experiencing pressure and tension, kept making mistakes: She committed 31 unforced errors in total, compared to Vondrousova’s 13.
Vondrousova was able to overturn deficits of 4-2 in the first set and 3-1 and 4-3 in the second thanks to this. The crowd’s enthusiasm for the well-liked Jabeur, known as the Minister of Happiness for her disposition on and off the court, only increased as she gained an advantage in each match, with cheers and ovations echoing off the roof of the arena.
Vondrousova played well throughout the match and broke to take the lead at 5-4 and serve for the victory. Soon after, she was up 40-love, and that’s when she realised the gravity of the situation.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Vondrousova said. “I just was thinking to myself: ‘Just be over.’”
She lost the game by reaching to block a volley, fell to the ground, laid on her back, covered her face and visor with her hands, and was the happiest she has ever been on the ground.
She ascended into the stands to embrace her husband, who had been at home caring for the cats prior to travelling to England to see the final. When the match ended, Vondrousova jokingly remarked that it was the most emotion he had displayed in the eight years they had been dating—their first wedding anniversary is on Sunday.
In addition, Vondrousova had other plans on her first full day after winning a major championship: she and her coach made a deal to get inked if she took home the trophy.