Ons Jabeur to Cristian Garin: Wimbledon 2022 showcases promising global tennis expansion

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Wimbledon 2022 continued its long held tradition of high quality tennis this year, and saw the emergence of some new international sensations.

The iconic Wimbledon tournament has concluded for another year with a tantalising final weekend which saw Elena Rybakina and Novak Djokovic crowned as 2022 Champions.

The Pimm’s and Lanson were flowing and over 38 tonnes of strawberries were hungrily devoured, as the two-week stint of top class tennis once again lived up to expectations at SW19.

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While Djokovic scooping his 21st Grand Slam title wasn’t the biggest of shocks, the women’s game remains in such an unpredictable era that, with Rybakina’s triumph and Iga Swiatek’s failure continuing the roller coaster narrative.

There was more drama, too, as Nick Kyrgios served up some spectacular temper tantrums, while the more serious ongoing question of Russian participation in sports was pondered.

We also saw at this year’s tournament a stunning resurgence of British talent.

11 British players were given wildcards to enter the tournament while Cameron Norrie, Dan Evans and Emma Raducanu were all in the main draw due to rankings. Players such as Liam Broady and Katie Boulter won the hearts of the nation with their unexpected, impressive showings, as well as a real appreciation for their home fans.

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Norrie reaching the semi-finals in the same 24 hours that over 50 government ministers resigned arguably gave the nation a stable hero they could rely on more than their own Parliament.

But crucially, Wimbledon 2022 saw a huge rise in the number of international stars outperforming those from historically strong tennis countries.

Kazakhstan’s first ever Grand Slam winner, Elena RybakinaKazakhstan’s first ever Grand Slam winner, Elena Rybakina
Kazakhstan’s first ever Grand Slam winner, Elena Rybakina | Getty Images

Europe has always had a distinct monopoly in the tennis world, stemming right back to the days of when the game was formed in the 12th century in France and its subsequent popularity spreading throughout European royalty in the following centuries.

This year’s tournament saw a strong contingent of players from those typical tennis nations such as Spain, France, the USA and Germany dominate many of the rounds.

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Spain’s Rafael Nadal unsurprisingly reached the semi-finals before suffering an abdominal injury, while his soon-to-be successor 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz stormed his way through to the quarter-finals.

However what was more prevalent was the rise of players from more obscure tennis countries, culminating in the Ladies Singles’ final containing no European player - the first time this has ever happened in a Grand Slam final in the Open era.

Not only was Elena Rybakina the first ever Kazakhstani player, male or female, to win a major, but her opponent Ons Jabeur was the first African to be in a Ladies Singles final.

Rybakina’s win was a relatively controversial one, with many tennis fans rushing to point out she was born and still resides in Moscow.

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She has previously competed under the Russian flag but switched her allegiance to Kazakhstan in 2018 after the Kazakh Tennis Federation offered her financial support to change her nationality.

It was Jabeur’s presence in the final, however, that was the most groundbreaking.

The Tunisian is currently the world number two and is the highest ever ranked African and Arab tennis player in ATP and WTA ranking history.

She became the first Arab woman to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam in Australia back in 2020 and has now become the first African and Arab player in history to reach the final of any Grand Slam.

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One of the very few Muslims on the WTA Tour, Jabeur has often spoken of her hope to inspire others to follow in her path, citing her awareness of the influence she can have.

The Tunisian Trailblazer (as Aljazeera called her) once said: “I’m trying to play good and also behaving on the court is very important to give a good image for any woman or any other tennis player from the Arabic world of Africa.”

This depth in talent was not restricted to just the Ladies’ Singles either as the Girls’ doubles saw Angella Okutoyi become the first Kenyan to win a Slam.

In the Men’s tournament, we were also treated to Cristian Garin’s performances as he became the first Chilean in 13 years to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final.

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Garin, who previously enjoyed a career high ranking of 17, is also the sixth-ever Chilean man to be ranked within the top 20.

Wimbledon is notorious for its pomp and grandeur, often being criticised for its airs of elitism and wealth.

While much of this may remain true, as celebrities filled the Royal Box on finals day and royalty presented all trophies, the presence of a larger pool of nationalities at higher stages of the tournament will help to bring the sport outside of its comfort zone and give it that depth and accessibility that has been long overdue.

Tennis, more generally speaking, has often felt reserved for those descendants of Northern European aristocrats, but as younger generations draw inspiration from others within their communities, it may not be long before even more history is made on the iconic Wimbledon Centre Court and beyond.

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