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Vondrousova is Wimbledon’s first unseeded female champion

WIMBLEDON, England: Marketa Vondrousova came to the All England Club a year ago unable to play tennis at all. She had a cast on her surgically repaired left wrist, so her visit was limited to sightseeing around London with her sister and cheering for a friend who was competing at Wimbledon.

This trip was a lot more memorable: She is leaving as a Grand Slam champion.

Vondrousova became the first unseeded woman to win Wimbledon on Saturday, coming back in each set for a 6-4, 6-4 victory over 2022 runner-up Ons Jabeur in the final.

HISTORIC WIN Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova returns a shot against Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur during the women’s singles final on Day 13 of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 15, 2023. PHOTO BY ALASTAIR GRANT/AP

“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.”

After being sidelined from April to October, she finished last season ranked just 99th. She was 42nd when she arrived at Wimbledon and was the first unseeded woman to even reach the final at the All England Club in 60 years — the last, 1963 runner-up Billie Jean King, was seated in the front row of the Royal Box on Saturday alongside Kate, the Princess of Wales.

Following the match, King greeted Vondrousova with a hug and told her: “First unseeded ever. I love it.”

Centre Court's retractable roof was closed for the final, shielding everyone from the wind that topped 20 mph (30 kph) outside, and that allowed Vondrousova's smooth strokes to repeatedly find the intended mark. She also liked that she didn't have to worry about any gusts or the sun or anything else while playing — a reminder of days practicing at indoor courts during winters in Prague.

“I always play good indoors,” Vondrousova said. “I was like, 'Yeah, maybe that's going to help me.'”

On this afternoon, she trailed in each set but collected the last four games of the first, then the last three games of the second as Jabeur fell to 0-3 in major finals.

The 28-year-old from Tunisia is the only Arab woman and only North African woman to make it that far in singles at any Grand Slam tournament.

“You cannot force things,” the sixth-seeded Jabeur said. “It wasn't meant to be.”

She lost to Elena Rybakina 12 months ago at the All England Club and to No. 1 Iga Swiatek at the US Open last September.

“I think this is the most painful loss of my career,” Jabeur said Saturday, pausing to wipe away tears.

Vondrousova's surge to her Slam title was hard to envision at the start of this fortnight.

She was 1-4 in previous appearances on Wimbledon's grass, only once making it as far as the second round, before going 7-0 on a run that included wins against five seeded foes.

One key was that Jabeur, who acknowledged feeling tension and pressure, kept making mistakes: She finished with 31 unforced errors; Vondrousova made merely 13.

That helped Vondrousova overcome deficits of 4-2 in the first set and 3-1 and 4-3 in the second. One she went ahead in each, the crowd's support for the popular Jabeur, nicknamed the Minister of Happiness for her demeanor on and off the court, would only rise, applause and shouts ricocheting off the cover atop the arena.

Staying steady down the stretch, Vondrousova broke to lead 5-4 and served for the match. She was soon up 40-love — and that's when the enormity of the moment hit her.

“I couldn't breathe,” Vondrousova said. “I just was thinking to myself: 'Just be over.'”

When she ended the match by reaching to put away a volley, she tumbled to the grass, then laid on her back and put her hands over her visor and face, the happiest she's ever been on the surface.

She climbed into the stands to share hugs with her husband, who had been home on cat-sitting duty until going to England to watch the final in person. Vondrousova joked that his tears of joy at match's end were the most emotion he's shown in the eight years they've been together; their first wedding anniversary is Sunday.

Vondrousova has other plans for her first full day as a major title winner, too: She and her coach agreed to get tattoos if she won the trophy.

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