When Marketa Vondrousova punched away a volley and fell to the ground after completing one of the most unexpected runs to the Wimbledon title, a jumble of thoughts must have been running through her head.
After all, Saturday was meant to be the day when Tunisian sixth seed Ons Jabeur would finally become the first Arab and first African woman to win a Grand Slam title.
Instead, a distraught Jabeur was left with tears streaming down her face as her Wimbledon dream was wrecked in the final for the second year running with a 6-4 6-4 drubbing.
In stark contrast, Vondrousova knelt down on the grass in her moment of triumph — staring at the turf that until this fortnight had not brought her much joy.
The Czech left-hander had won only one match at the All England Club before this year and 12 months ago she had come to London as a tennis tourist with her arm and elbow in a plaster cast as she recovered from a second bout of wrist surgery.
Her time out from the sport meant that she fell so far off the tennis radar that she no longer even had a clothing sponsor.
But the 42nd-ranked Czech put those problems behind her to become the first unseeded woman to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish as she completed her own phenomenal comeback story.
“I don’t know what’s happening right now,” Vondrousova said during the presentation ceremony as she was given a standing ovation by a 15,000-strong capacity Centre Court crowd that included tennis greats Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova
“Ons, you are such an inspiration for all of us and I hope you will win this one day; you are an amazing person.
“This time last year I had a cast on so it’s amazing that I can now stand here and hold this (trophy), it’s crazy,” added the Czech, whose husband Stepan Simek had flown in from Prague especially for the final after being relieved of his cat-sitting duties at home.
“It’s amazing as tomorrow is the first anniversary of our wedding. I am exhausted but I am so proud. I am going to have a beer as it’s been an exhausting two weeks,” said Vondrousova.
While the clearly elated Czech began her victory lap to show off the Rosewater Dish to all corners of Centre Court, Britain’s Princess of Wales was left to console a sobbing Jabeur who could not fathom how she had messed up her chance of holding aloft the most famous trophy in women’s tennis.
The truth of the matter was that she was the architect of her own downfall, with the 31 unforced errors she produced telling their own story.
“This is very, very, tough. I am going to look ugly for those photos,” the 28-year-old Jabeur told the crowd through tears.
After the hollering fans gave the crowd favourite a prolonged ovation, she added: “This is the most painful loss of my career.
“Today is going to be a tough day for me but I’m not going to give up and I am going to come back stronger. It’s been a tough journey but I promise I will come back and one day win this tournament.”
Only time will tell if she can fulfil that promise but on Saturday she was ruing all the chances she had missed during the opening exchanges of a contest that was effectively being played in an indoor arena after the roof was closed to block out the howling winds blowing through the grounds.
Jabeur knows she could have won the first set 6-0, having had game points in each of the opening six games. But the variety, imagination and mental fortitude she had shown to knock out four Grand Slam champions en route to the final simply deserted her on Saturday.
She let a 2-0 opening-set lead slip through her fingers, with Vondrousova breaking back and then saving four break points in the fourth game.
It still seemed like Jabeur had the match on her racket when she leapt to a 4-2 lead by breaking her 24-year-old opponent to love.
But then inexplicably the wheels fell off Jabeur’s game as she lost 16 of the next 18 points, with a sloppy service return handing Vondrousova the set.
While the Czech was on a roll, winning five games on the trot, the crowd did their best to wake up Jabeur who appeared to be trapped in her own personal nightmare, albeit in front of a global audience.
The Tunisian, who also lost the 2022 U.S. Open final to Iga Swiatek, finally responded to take a 3-1 lead in the second set but that respite proved to be a false dawn.
The racket she had used as a wand to bamboozle six other rivals during these championships had lost its magical powers and she conceded five of the next six games in a hail of unforced errors, leaving Vondrousova to bask in the glory of following in the footsteps of fellow Czech-born Wimbledon champions Navratilova, Jana Novotna and Petra Kvitova.
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