King's support buoys Jabeur in Paris

 - Reem Abulleil

Tunisian eyes maiden Roland-Garros quarter-final with backing of global tennis icon

Ons Jabeur, Roland Garros 2020, third round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

The morning of her third round against No.8 seed Aryna Sabalenka on Saturday, Ons Jabeur received a special message from the legendary Billie Jean King.

“I actually woke up to her text today. She was saying, 'thank you for the kind words' I said about the Billie Jean King Cup and I also thanked her for everything she’s doing and hopefully we can meet one day. I was really happy to wake up to that message,” said Jabeur, who went on to defeat Sabalenka in three wild sets to become the first Tunisian in history to reach the Roland-Garros fourth round.

Jabeur’s rise, and her role in putting the Arab world and North Africa on the tennis map, fascinated King, a 12-time major champion who lifted the Roland-Garros trophy in 1972.

“I was looking at players from the Arab world and I saw Ons Jabeur did a beautiful video for me. It is absolutely beautiful and very heartfelt. And I watched a lot of her matches,” King told

“She could be a lot better. She's very talented. And she needs to learn to focus and concentrate. And also most importantly, believe, believe that she's going to win this match.

“She's an exceptional athlete. She has great hands. She needs... start really buckling down and get fit and really get going. She's quite amazing and could be so much better.”

Jabeur, who first broke onto the scene as a teenager when she clinched the Roland-Garros junior title in 2011, was thrilled to know a pioneer and leader such as King had taken interest in her game.

“Such a legend like her makes me really proud and to be honest I cannot wait to meet her,” the No.30 seed said.

The 26-year-old, who takes on Danielle Collins on Monday on Court Suzanne-Lenglen for a place in the quarter-finals, set a target for herself since the start of 2020 to end the season ranked inside the top 20.

A five-month coronavirus-induced hiatus and a readjusted rankings system, which limited the ability of players to make giant leaps in the standings, had not deterred her from striving for that same goal.

Jabeur became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open in January and now stood one victory from matching that feat in the French capital.

“That was my goal from the beginning, to make the second week, I know I had my spot here. I’m so proud that I’m playing even better each match,” she said.

“To be honest, I want to continue on this path, I don’t want to stop here. I know I can go further, I know I can make the Arab, African, Tunisian world proud. So I’m going to keep motivating myself to go as far as I can.”

Ons Jabeur, Roland Garros 2017, second round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

The Parisian Slam wasn’t just the site of Jabeur’s junior breakthrough; it was also where she started fulfilling her potential on the women’s tour, thanks to a maiden top-10 victory over Dominika Cibulkova in the Roland-Garros second round in 2017.

“Obviously it's much different now because everyone is expecting me to be in the third round or fourth round, the second week. It's different,” she said on reflection of how far she had come since 2017.

“I mean, also I was thinking about it, just walking off the court I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm back, third round’. I was reflecting the emotions I felt at that time.

“I am glad that I'm back. I'm going to do everything and not do the same mistakes I did in 2017. I'm obviously a different person. I'm seeded, which is new for me. I want to go far in this tournament. I love Roland-Garros, I love Paris. Why not put this love on the court?”