The 2022 Wimbledon Championships promised a return to old-school tactics, and though Ons Jabeur rode that nostalgic wave into her first major final behind a barrage of drop shots and varied spins, it ultimately didn’t earn her the title.

It was instead a different kind of classic tennis that won the women’s final as Elena Rybakina hit through Jabeur’s attempts at improv, anchored by an effortless first serve.

In an era too often defined by brittle, unreliable technique, the Russian-born Kazakh’s ground game is a master class of Robert Lansdorp-style precision that prioritizes clean, flat hitting above all else. But it all goes back to the serve, that serve, the shot that has not only earned her 221 aces in just under 40 matches—putting her in pole position to end a second season as the WTA tour’s Ace Leader—but also allowed her to rally from a set down to defeat an in-form Jabeur, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 for her first major trophy.

Get to know the 23-year-old’s impeccable delivery before you, too, find yourself on the wrong end of it:


WATCH: Rybakina won a crucial sixth game of the deciding set thanks to some smart serving to the Ons Jabeur backhand.

The Power

Not all power games are created equal. Where Aryna Sabalenka is on full stretch to attempt her at-times intimidating serve, Rybakina’s is all but an abbreviated delivery—one that commits to non-frills motion the likes of which typically seen in a video game.

“How I developed my serve?” Rybakina asked of an inquiring journalist after her Wimbledon victory. “I think it was just the work of my coach also because I always had this power. We changed a bit the technique. I don't remember exactly which moment, but for sure it was on the preseason because we have more time.

“We were trying to find this natural motion, so it's effortless, the power I have.”

While the serve itself looks largely similar to the weapon she brought through her blistering start to 2020—the year she first became the WTA Ace Leader—some slight technical changes overseen by coach Stefano Vukov have occurred in the two seasons since to make an even smoother motion.

The change doesn’t trade power for consistency, and has already allowed her to hit 28 more aces in about as many matches (221 in 38 vs 193 in 39); 53 came during the Wimbledon fortnight alone.

While she only struck four in the final against Jabeur, placement proved equally effective.

Rybakina combined a heavy first serve with a nasty kick second serve to earn her first Wimbledon title.

Rybakina combined a heavy first serve with a nasty kick second serve to earn her first Wimbledon title.


The Placement

Ahead of her first major final, Rybakina admitted feeling the anxiety that often come with an occasion this big.

“I was trying to convince myself that it might happen again, and hopefully it's not the last time I'm in the final,” she explained after the match. “Not the first; not the last. I already did a great job with my team.

“With these kinds of words, I was trying to calm myself down.”

Nerves nonetheless came through in the opening set as Jabeur enraptured the crowd with her signature trick shots. Two breaks scored the opening set for the talented Tunisian and Rybakina was left to come up with a new game plan.

A post-match look at the No. 17 seed’s serving profile revealed she directed the majority of her first serves towards the Jabeur forehand, a strategy that proved ineffective as Jabeur won just under half of her return points in that first set.

Rather than press on in the hopes of breaking down that wing, Rybakina inverted her patterns and began aiming most of her serves to the Jabeur backhand. Where Jabeur had been able block Rybakina’s serve back with a forehand slice, the No. 3 seed found herself locked to the backhand and less able to put forth a deep reply.

The tactic proved its most potent in the final set when Rybakina fell behind 0-40 in the crucial sixth game. Just as Jabeur was reconnecting with her creativity, the Kazakh nailed four of her next five serves to the Tunisian’s backhand, guaranteeing a weak return that she could bat away for a winner.

Even when she missed her first serve, a heavy kick opened up similar opportunities to jam Jabeur’s backhand and led to a 73%-win percentage in the deciding set.

“I just try to do my best,” the famously serious Rybakina said before the final, “and focus on things which I can control: my serve, my shots, emotions.”

With no obvious hitches or weaknesses, was this serving performance just the opening salvo in Elena Rybakina’s march up the rankings? There may yet be a mental hill to climb as she adjusts to the altitude, but a pristine foundation—and a nigh-unbreakable serve—should make the transition towards the top fairly easy.