AO 23 Australian Open

Elena Rybakina and the power of proof

Elena Rybakina won a Wimbledon championship in which a number of key players were banned by The All-England Club from participating. The exclusion of many Russian and Belarusian players naturally had a profound impact on the draw. Without those bans, would Rybakina have had the manageable path she followed to glory at SW19? We can debate that question until the end of time. We’ll never know for sure.

Yet, what Elena Rybakina knew for sure when she defeated Ons Jabeur in the final is that she knew what it took to win a major championship. She proved it. She did it. A player with evident potential and an enormously high ceiling showed she could run the race and finish the job.

Whether or not the draw was elite, that was secondary. Rybakina had that moment holding the Venus Rosewater Dish. She had that moment on Centre Court. She basked in the glow of being a Wimbledon champion. Life does change for athletes when they forge such achievements. The question is: Does the achievement change the athlete for the better or for worse?

The best-case scenario is that winning one title builds confidence which emerges and grows as the journey continues.

Elena Rybakina has not yet done what Iga Swiatek did in 2022: Rise to the top and stay at the top, dominating the tour week after week and leaving no doubt about the best player in the world. Rybakina hasn’t established that long-term dominance Swiatek has.

Yet, when Rybakina and Swiatek met in the fourth round of the Australian Open, it was very clear: Rybakina played with the confidence of someone who had already won a major and knew — not believed or hoped, but KNEW — she had it in her to play her best tennis and outhit the World No. 1 on the big stage.

Whether the 2022 Wimbledon draw was “legitimate” or not, it doesn’t matter. Rybakina climbed to the top of the mountain. She was changed by the experience. She took all the right lessons from the experience, applying them against Swiatek.

Sometimes, we focus on the circumstances surrounding certain events instead of remembering that the event itself happened. Circumstances can mean more than actual occurrences, but not always. Sometimes, the central event is the centerpiece, and the context is peripheral — not essential — to the meaning of the moment.

It seems that way for Rybakina. Though not yet the weekly colossus Swiatek was for much of 2022, she drew upon her triumph last July and looked like the better big-match player for one day against the World No. 1.

The power of proof was used fully by Elena Rybakina. A bright career is becoming even more luminous.

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