Ons Jabeur is taking chunks out of her sport’s glass ceiling one deft forehand at a time.
Jabeur booked her place in the Wimbledon women’s singles final with 6-2 3-6 6-1 victory over her close friend Tatjana Maria, becoming the first African woman to reach a Slam final in the Open era.
This year’s Wimbledon may well be remembered for the bad-tempered Saturday night scrap between Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas but perhaps this was the perfect antidote to all their rather tiring macho histrionics.
Tunisian Jabeur is a joy to watch because of how she crafts her points, playing the angles with deftness, mixing slice and top spin with a few expertly judged lobs to get the crowd oohing and aahing.
It’s almost like going back in time to when fellow trailblazer Evonne Goolagong made this place her own with a game enhanced by the sum of its parts rather than one thumping weapon.
“It is a dream coming true from years of sacrifice,” she said. “I want to go bigger and inspire many more generations. Tunisia is connected to the Arab world and is connected to the African continent too.
“We didn’t believe enough that we can do it and I’m just trying to show that we can. I just love it here, it has such energy.”
Jabeur was a talented junior, once winning the girls’ French Open title, and partnering Ash Barty in doubles events. However, it’s fair to say she’s taken her time to make an impact on the WTA Tour, winning her biggest title in Madrid earlier this year aged 27. But this is a whole different stage as she prepares to face Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina on Saturday.
Maria has provided these Championships with one of its feel good stories. Last week if you’d said a player was going to end a 42-year wait for a mother to win the singles here, you’d have thought of Serena Williams.
But instead it was Maria, a 34-year-old mother of two, ranked outside the world’s top 250 just a few months ago, that went closest. Not bad considering in more than 30 attempts at this level she’s reached the third round just once.
“Tatjana is such an inspiration to so many including me, coming back after having two babies. She is a beast, she doesn’t give up, and she didn’t get tired,” added Jabeur. “Her touch and serve is really impressive – I hope to see her keep going like this.”
Back home they dub Jabeur the ‘Minister for Happiness’ – and she’s got no intention of resigning from that role against Rybakina.
“I know that my game could really bother her,” she adds. “I’ll try to focus more on myself, do a lot of slices, try to really make her work hard.
“They used to play a lot of slices before serve and volley tennis and I like the different style. It was very tough to adapt to the changing rhythm of that sort of game.
“Now it’s one more match, one more step, to continue and hopefully get the title.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Ons Jabeur is dubbed the ‘Minister for Happiness’ in Tunisia and has been one of the 2022 Wimbledon stars – with Saturday’s women’s singles final now ahead (Reuters, via Beat Media Group subscription)