Ons Jabeur broke yet more ground for Arab and North African tennis when she beat Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon on Tuesday.
The No 3 seed, who lost at the same stage 12 months ago, recovered brilliantly from the loss of the first set to reach her first grand slam semi-final. At the age of 27, she is peaking at the right time. “I’m really, really happy, especially that it happened on this court because I have so much love for this court,” Jabeur said. “Hopefully the journey for me will continue”.
The journey has been a long one, from precocious junior to a player who took a while to find her feet on the WTA Tour. Blessed with incredible hands, beautiful touch and an uncanny feel for the game, she has carried Arab and African tennis on her shoulders, with pride and more recently, with a renewed responsibility. With responsibility comes pressure, but as she has grown into her role, so the results have flowed.
Her win over Bouzkova, which sets up a semi-final against the unseeded German, Tatjana Maria, was her 10th straight grass-court win, having won the warm-up event on grass in Berlin. When Bouzkova, chasing everything down and playing smart, bold tennis, took the first set, Jabeur took a breath. It was the first set she had lost at this year’s event and she might have feared the worst. But she found her rhythm and pulled away for a convincing victory.
“I knew she was going to come and really make me work to win a point, she’s a really talented player,” Jabeur said. “I’m really happy I woke up in the second set and played much better after that.”
Finding a solution when she’s in trouble is something Jabeur has worked hard on with her sports psychologist, Melanie Maillard, with whom she has worked since 2018. Together, the two have found a way for Jabeur to remain calm, believe in herself and get the job done. At the French Open, she lost in the first round when considered one of the favourites for the title; here she has dealt brilliantly with expectation and looks like she believes in her title chances. As she told The Guardian on the eve of the event: “I am on a mission”.
Jabeur is the first Arab player, male or female, to reach any grand slam semi-final in the Open era and she is the first African woman to make the last four of a slam since South African Amanda Coetzer at the French Open in 1997.
And now she gets to play one of her best friends on Tour, Tatjana Maria, who beat fellow German Julie Niemeier in three sets in the first quarter-final. The pair have been hanging out during this year’s Championships, with Jabeur spending time with Maria’s two young daughters, Charlotte and Cecilia.
“I love Tatiana so much,” she said. “I love her family. She’s my barbecue buddy, she’s a great friend, I’m really happy she is in a semi-final. I wish players would look up to her, she really struggled to play and win matches at grand slams and look at her now, she’s in the semi-finals after having two babies.”