A video on social media had been doing the rounds on Friday. It’s a clip from an interview the Women’s Tennis Association had done with Ons Jabeur in January. She’s asked to make a prediction about herself this year, and without skipping a beat, she had an answer.

“I’m gonna win Wimbledon,” she said, raised an eyebrow, and added, “bold, huh?”

It was easy, at the time perhaps, to dismiss it as light-hearted banter. The 27-year-old after all, does have a reputation on tour of being a popular, friendly and jovial personality. But on Thursday, after she reached the Wimbledon women’s singles final, she revealed that there was a lot more to that comment.

“Not to lie to you, the dream kind of started last year when I enjoyed playing here, enjoyed the crowd,” the World No 2 said in her press conference after beating Tatjana Maria in the semifinal.

“I didn’t play so many Wimbledons before. Usually, it was the first and second round. It’s tricky on grass but I knew I was playing good on grass because of my game and everything.

“Melanie (Maillard), my mental coach, reminded me when I lost in the quarterfinals (last year) that I told her, ‘I’m coming back next year for the title’.”

And here she is, just a step away from fulfilling that promise.

But she comes up against Elena Rybakina, a player who hadn’t been at her best coming into the tournament, but soon found her groove. That hard-hitting style did wonders for her on the pristine grass courts of the All England Club, as she blazed past her opponents with her powerful strokes and big serve – she just brushed aside 2019 champion Simona Halep (who was playing so well herself) in the semifinal.

The finalists on Saturday have already made history in their own right. It’s the first Grand Slam final appearance for a Tunisian and Kazakh. It’s the first time in the Open Era that the women’s singles final at Wimbledon will be played by two players who have reached their first Major summit.

Now the question is who will go a step further.

Contrasting styles

Rybakina, world No 23, standing at six feet tall, is a powerful striker of the ball. She’s an aggressive baseliner who looks to finish points off early. Her reach and experience in doubles also sees her unafraid of approaching the net. And then there’s that big serve.

She clocked the second fastest serve in the women’s singles event at Wimbledon this year – 122 miles per hour (196 kmph). Coming into the Slam, she led the aces count, 168, for the season, and added another 49 across the six matches she’s played at SW19.

That blistering pace only gets faster when the ball skids off the grass surface.

While Rybakina’s game is built on power, Jabeur’s is on craft.

The Tunisian is a magician on court with a game very easy on the eye. She’ll throw in well disguised drop shots, cut down the pace in her strokes, and then when there’s an opening, crack home forehands up the line or inside out winners. Those backhand slices stay nice and low on grass too.

Her speciality though is to think up and play the unthinkable, and executing it perfectly. Just like that simple flick-of-the-wrist half-volley she played from a ball three feet behind her.

Different journeys to Wimbledon

On paper, Jabeur is the favourite. She’s been the player in form, and is the second highest ranked player in the world. This season, she’s reached four finals before this fortnight, winning the Madrid Masters and the Wimbledon tune-up in Berlin.

Rybakina however, has battled inconsistent form, fitness, and Covid infections. She reached a tour final in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open, but has since gotten only as far as a quarterfinal just once.

“I didn’t expect that I’ll be here in the second week especially in the final. It was tough because I had injuries, I didn’t have good preparations,” she said after her semifinal.

“It wasn’t that I was just going up with my results. I knew I didn’t have good preparation, maybe that was something that helped me get through these matches (at Wimbledon). I can say that this is the first time that I really enjoyed every day of playing and just being in the tournament.”

Flying the flag

Jabeur is the first African woman, and the first Arab man or woman in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam final.

“I’m a proud Tunisian woman standing here today and I know in Tunisia they’re going crazy right now. I’m just trying to inspire as much as I can,” she said on court after reaching the final.

She’s aware of the heritage and her following.

In Rybakina’s case though, she’s been asked questions about her nationality often. Born in Russia, the 23-year-old decided to represent Kazakhstan in 2018 after the oil-rich nation promised to support her tennis.

This year the Wimbledon Championships has banned Russian and Belarusian players from competing, so Rybakina reaching the final brought up such questions.

“I’m playing for Kazakhstan for a long time. I’m really happy representing Kazakhstan,” she said.

“They believed in me. There is no more question about how I feel. It’s already a long time my journey as a Kazakh player.”

She’s the first player, from or representing, Kazakhstan to have reached a Grand Slam final.

And so a new name will be etched on the famous green board that decorates the winners wall at the All England Club. A new player will hold aloft the Venus Rosewater Dish.

There are no ranking points on offer, but Wimbledon is Wimbledon. It’s the most prestigious tournament in the sport, where stars are made. And on Saturday, a new player from a new nation will be put on the Grand Slam winners list.

Route to the final

Ons Jabeur
Elena Rybakina
First round
bt Mirjam Bjorklund 6-1, 6-3
bt CoCo Vandeweghe 7-6 (2), 7-5
Second round
bt Katarzyna Kawa 6-4, 6-0
bt Bianca Andreescu 6-4, 7-6 (5)
Third round
bt Diane Parry 6-2, 6-3
bt Qinwen Zheng 7-6 (4), 7-5
Fourth round
bt Elise Mertens 7-6 (9), 6-4
bt Petra Martic 7-5, 6-3
Quarterfinals bt Marie Bouzkova 3-6, 6-1, 6-1
bt Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3
Semifinals bt Tatjana Maria 6-2, 3-6, 6-1
bt Simona Halep 6-3, 6-3