Trailblazer Jabeur wants Wimbledon journey to continue

 - Alex Sharp

The Tunisian edged a contender for match of the tournament against 2017 champion Garbine Muguruza on Centre Court.

Ons Jabeur Wimbledon 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Pretty much every time Ons Jabeur steps onto a tennis court she makes history for Tunisia.

Now, the gregarious world No.24 is the first Arab woman ever to book a ticket into the second week at Wimbledon.

t’s a phenomenal achievement, which shouldn’t be heralded just in her homeland. 

"You can't limit her to just inspiring women in the Arab region. She's inspiring all kinds of women, including me,” insisted Venus Williams, victim of Jabeur’s versatility and resilience in the second round. 

 "When I see her winning, I'm very happy for her. I'm proud also.”

The 26-year-old hailed the best day of her tennis career on Friday, pipping 2017 champion Garbiñe Muguruza 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 to post her 32nd victory of a magnificent season thus far.

Ons is seeking more.

Role model

“It means a lot. Especially so many Arab people watching me and supporting me.  I've received a lot of message from different people. It's amazing. But I don't want the journey to stop here,” said Jabeur. “I want to continue. I'm doing amazing. I'm getting more and more confident on the court.”

The No.21 seed hopes images and footage of her launching into a trick shot or laid down like a starfish in celebration can make an impact on future Arab players.

“I hope that so many of the young generation is watching, and I can inspire them.  Hopefully one day I could be playing with a lot of players next to me,” said the Tunisian after her first match on Centre Court. 

“Sometimes you need someone to inspire you and show you the path. We are not known to have a lot of tennis player. Sometimes when you show the path to someone, I know myself, I struggled sometimes to see. I didn't believe in myself because I didn't see many Tunisian before me. Sometimes you just have to put the words, to say that even if I practiced like in Tunisia, but I still believed in it and worked hard to be here.

“But I hope one day this could change. I hope we can change this mentality and many other players could come here and believe in themselves.”

The match had so many twists and turns including a shot around the net post “one of my favourite shots ever,” countless disguised drop shots, volleys executed from her shoe laces and jumping backhands. It was a perfect illustration of what makes Jabeur so compelling to watch, competing hard, fearless and free.

The 26-year-old, up against 2020 Roland-Garros champion Iga Swiatek in the fourth round, is adamant you should express your personality on and off the court. 

“I always said that my game always reflects my character. I'm someone that doesn't like routine. Changing the shots and having fun on the court, making a lot of jokes outside the court, it reflects me as a person,” continued the world No.24, lifting a maiden WTA title on the grass in Birmingham last month.

“I always believe that I try to be nice to all players. I try to joke with a lot of players. I hope they don't take my jokes badly. But I try to be fun. I feel like tennis is a great work, but tennis will be over in few years. What really stays is your personality.”

In the heat of the battle (it was scorching at SW19 on Friday), Jabeur won 16 points in a row to clinch the second set and to building a commanding lead in the decider. Muguruza gave everything, eventually saving 24 of 29 break points. It wasn’t quite enough. 

“That drove me crazy at certain times. Let's be honest,” claimed Jabeur with a laugh.

“What I was telling myself is to accept that she can serve good, accept that she can really play good after, and she's going to fight. Even sometimes it was so close, the third set, when I was going for 4-1, then she corrected. It was insane. A lot of emotion that game. I'm happy I stayed focused and believed I could get even more breakpoints.”

Ons Jabeur Wimbledon 2021 ©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Jabeur, now 9-1 on grass courts this campaign, isn’t a frequent spectator of tennis away from the cauldron of competition, but recalls a classic 2009 bout at the All England Club. 

“The match that stayed in my mind was Andy Roddick and Roger Federer's final.  I was shooting for Andy because he's my favourite player, always looked up to him, see how they're playing. It's unbelievable,” reflected the No.21 seed.

“Also I was emotional when Andy Murray first won here (2013). It's always nice to see a national hero achieving after trying a lot of times. So many players, they inspire me. I've watched few, but it was very memorable moments for me.”

Looking ahead it’s Swiatek, who has soared through the opening three rounds at SW19 by losing just 13 games.

“She has a very good serve. When she has time with her forehand, she can be very dangerous. I've practice with her a few times, we warm up together. She's a very nice person. I really enjoy being with her outside and also during the practices,” added Jabeur.

“It's going to be a tricky match, a tough match. I know she's very strong mentally. She doesn't want to let go any point. I'm going to do the best that I can to win this match.”