England’s Wimbledon: Ons Jabeur is the first woman from Africa to reach a Grand Slam singles final in the professional era thanks to her consistent progression from year to year up the tennis rankings, through the draws of different tournaments, and now at Wimbledon.
The No. 3-seeded Jabeur, a 27-year-old Tunisian, defeated her close friend Tatjana Maria in a tumultuous semifinal on a sun-drenched Centre Court on Thursday by scores of 6-2, 3-6, and 6-1.
Jabeur has won 22 of her last 24 games and 11 of her last 12 games combined. An African had never advanced to the final of a major tennis tournament since professional players were first permitted to enter in 1968. She is the first Arab woman to reach that level as well.
“I’m standing here today as a proud Tunisian woman. I’m aware that things are currently crazy in Tunisia. I merely try, as much as I can, to inspire, she said. “I want to see more and more African, Arab, and other players on tour—not just Tunisian players. I simply adore the game and want to share my enthusiasm with them.
On Saturday, Jabeur will compete for the title against either the 2019 champion Simona Halep or the No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina. Later on Thursday, Halep and Rybakina were slated to compete in their semifinal at the All England Club.
The men’s semifinal matches will take place on Friday, with Rafael Nadal taking on unseeded Nick Kyrgios and three-time defending champion and No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic taking on No. 9 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain. Nadal struggled to a five-set victory over Taylor Fritz on Wednesday, raising questions about whether he’d be able to make it to his semifinal.
On Thursday, Nadal conducted a brief practice session, focusing primarily on forehands and backhands. When he did attempt to serve, which was a major issue the day before, he did so without exerting all of his strength or positioning his body behind his deliveries.
Jabeur has seen recent success in the tennis world. She made history by becoming the first Arab woman to advance past the quarterfinals of a major in 2020 at the Australian Open. The past year saw a number of historic firsts: the first Arab player to reach the top 10 of either the men’s or women’s rankings, the first Arab to take home a WTA title, and an appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
She has improved on that by two steps now.
“I’m not sure what to say, to be honest. It’s the realization of a dream after a lifetime of work and sacrifice. With a big smile, Jabeur said, “I’m so glad it’s working. “Now, one more game.”
She and Maria, a 34-year-old mother of two from Germany who is ranked 103rd, met at the net for an extended hug as she finished off the biggest victory of her career. Jabeur spoke softly in her friend’s ear. After putting her racket down on the sidelines, Jabeur went back to the center of the court to give the customary victory wave to the crowd, but in a strange move, she pulled Maria along with her.
She is such an inspiration to so many players, including me, that I knew I had to share the moment with her at the conclusion, according to Jabeur. I still find it hard to comprehend how she managed to return after giving birth to two children.
Jabeur and Maria waited for the walk through the stadium’s hallways that would take them to the court before their semifinal match. Despite being so close, the two avoided eye contact or conversation.
Yes, among friends. On this particular day, the stakes, setting, and stage were quite high.
Neither had ever advanced to a Grand Slam semifinal. In her 34 previous appearances at major tournaments, Maria had never advanced past the third round and had only done so once, at Wimbledon in 2015.
They often socialize together. They are “barbecue buddies,” to use Jabeur’s phrase. Jabeur is so familiar with Maria’s two daughters that the German called her “Aunt Ons.”
Perhaps this explains why neither player showed much emotion during the game, even after great points. After a lively exchange with both at the net, Jabeur put her hands on her hips and Maria grinned sheepishly. After one particularly challenging but successful running, Jabeur raised her left fist overhead and twisted her forehand across her body to score a passing goal. In the second set, Maria raised her right arm when she was ahead 5-2.
They provide unique varieties of tennis that mix speed and variety. Jabeur used a drop shot on a serve return to win the second point of the game. Jabeur, who can hit powerful groundstrokes, occasionally joined in on Maria’s love of slice forehands.
Jabeur’s second set performance was noticeably weaker after such a strong first set. She might have realized how close she was to making the final.
Suddenly, errors started piling up quickly. Her serving lacked confidence. Maria profited greatly. Then, in an instant, Jabeur went back to being her best self, winning the third game by a score of 5-0.
Jabeur made an astonishingly low total of three errors the rest of the way after making 17 unforced mistakes in the second set. Maria was unable to keep up.