Ons Jabeur continues trailblazing Wimbledon run

LONDON — Tunisian football chants, not a common occurrence on the British courts, were ringing around Wimbledon on Monday as Ons Jabeur made history once again, beating No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek to become the first Arab woman to make it to the quarterfinals.

Jabeur’s run at Wimbledon has been nothing short of remarkable. She has beaten three Grand Slam champions and creates a little bit of history every time she steps onto the court.

When Venus Williams was asked what she thought about the 26-year-old ahead of their second-round match, she called her a “trailblazer.” And Williams certainly understands the weight of that word.

“Ons, I would say, is one of my favorite people on tour,” Williams said. “Honestly, she’s just breaking down barriers. The first woman from her country to do anything that she’s doing.

“She just won her first tournament, so she’s got to be feeling great. I just think you’re going to see a whole other generation of women from North Africa or wherever coming into tennis. It’s going to be allowed to her. I think she’s inspiring so many people, including me.”

Jabeur has caught the attention of others as well. Roger Federer congratulated her after her win against 2017 Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, and the Tunisian has become a firm fan favorite for her famed drop shots and honest on-court interviews.

“I could play another match now,” she said jokingly, after vomiting — in front of the royal box and the Duchess of Cambridge — on match point against Muguruza.

“I love her game, I love her personality, I like her flair, her smiles, her expressions, her athleticism, everything,” Pam Shriver told ESPN. “Her story is amazing. She’s another pioneer women’s tennis player in an impressive list of them.

“It’s incredible to think that she could get sick to her stomach at the back of the court, lose the first match point, go back to deuce, win the deuce point and then close it out with that next match point. It shows she’s pretty determined.”

Determination is synonymous with Jabeur’s journey. As a junior, she reached a career high of No. 4 and won titles at both Wimbledon and Roland Garros. However, the switch to senior wasn’t a simple one for her, and there were times when she wasn’t sure she could keep going.

“I started really bad that season [2018], winning no matches. I was doubting myself a lot,” Jabeur said. “I think early in my career, after the juniors, when I didn’t see the results that I wanted, when I was seeing the juniors that I played with breaking the top 50, top 40, yeah, it was very difficult for me.

“I honestly stayed patient because, like I said before, with my type of game it’s difficult to find the right shot, the right choices to do on the court. I finally found what I have to do and be able to stay, like, a clear head to help me a lot to be one of the good athletes right now.”

Jabeur was also a recipient of the Grand Slam Development fund, a grant designed to help players get international competitive experience and increase exposure to tennis in different regions across the world.

“It was very helpful because tennis is a very difficult sport financially. If you find that kind of support, if you find that, you probably have a certain amount that will help you, then yeah, you can focus more on playing tennis,” Jabeur said.

“I think that’s what I did. I had a coach. I had a team behind me. I think that’s what I needed to put more focus on tennis than the money outside.”

Jabeur has kicked on since 2018, and Wimbledon is far from the first time she has made history. She’s the only Arab woman in the Open era to reach the quarterfinals of a major, a feat she achieved at the 2020 Australian Open, when she beat Johanna Konta, Caroline Garcia, Caroline Wozniacki and Qiang Wang before losing to Sofia Kenin.

Should she beat No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka on Tuesday, she will be the first Arab player to make it to a major semifinal.

While Jabeur had admitted to suffering badly from nerves while on court — although it has been hard to tell with some of the brave plays she has made over the past week — she doesn’t shy away from the importance of what she is doing on the tour.

“I have seen it, heard it, a lot of times coming here on tour from where I come, I need to gain my respect either with the players or anyone around here,” she said.

“I have worked hard for this. I’ve worked hard to earn my place here. I just want to give the example for many generations coming from North Africa, from my country, from the African continent, that it’s not impossible, that we can do it. I’m trying to carry this message for a very long time. Hopefully it is working.”

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