Tennis player Ons Jabeur is on the way up

The Tunisian, 17, who won the girls' French Open title in June, picked up the Emerging Arab Athlete award at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Awards.

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05:  Champion Ons Jabeur of Tunisia poses with the trophy following her victory during the girl's singles final match between Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and Monica Puig of Puerto Rica on day fifteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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DUBAI // The roll of honour for the French Open girls' championship includes some illustrious names from the world of tennis, such as Gabriela Sabatini, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis and Justine Henin.

Ons Jabeur was the latest to join the list when she beat Monica Puig in straight sets at Roland Garros last year to win the title.

It was her second successive French Open final, having lost to Elina Svitolina in 2010, but there was no stopping the Tunisian last year as she became the first North African woman to win a grand slam crown in any category.

The win has put Jabeur at the top of the emerging tennis players' list, and the 17 year old from Ksar Hellal added to her medal collection yesterday by being named the Emerging Arab Athlete at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Awards.

"I am so happy because this means so much to me," Jabeur said at ceremony to honour the UAE and Arab's world best at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel yesterday.

"After the French Open, this is going to make me do better and I hope 2012 will be much better than 2011."

Jabeur first received news of the award through an early morning call from her father. She could hardly believe the news.

"I was half asleep and I heard him say congrats," she said. "I was totally awake and so excited. This award will really help me aim higher. There is a big responsibility and I have to prove myself."

Jabeur is ranked No 616 in the world and she is hoping to rise through the charts by playing more tournaments. The Dubai Open, scheduled for next month, is on her list as well as Qatar and the French Open qualifiers.

"This year I am hoping to play the London Olympics," she said. "I also have to play many tournaments to improve my ranking. So it is going to be a big challenge for me.

"I have many tournaments planned. I am hoping to play here in Dubai and Qatar, and I also have an invitation to the French Open qualifiers.

"So I am just preparing myself and hope to do well when the opportunity comes."

Jabeur, who first started playing the game at the age of three, will also be moving base from Tunisia to Belgium to hone her skills at the academy of the former world No 1 Henin.

"Henin is a great player and I hope it is going to be good for me," Jabeur said. "I had an offer from the academy and I like the academy, so we have signed a contract for one year. I am hoping for some positive results. So let's see.

"Tennis is my passion and I want to do well. I hope to be top 10 in the WTA. It's going to be so hard, but I am going to work hard for it."

The French Open success has given Jabeur the confidence to dream big and she wants to follow the lead of some great former juniors champions.

"I know that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won juniors (grand slam) titles," she said. "So I take it as a good start for me and hope I can follow in their footsteps."

Also at the awards, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed was named the Sports Personality of the Year.

Sheikh Mansour, the owner of English Premier League club Manchester City and the chairman of Al Jazira, was honoured for his contribution towards the growth of sport in the country.

Sheikh Issa bin Rashid, the president of the Bahrain Football Association, was named the Arab Sports Personality of the Year. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the chairman of Dubai Sports Council, presented the awards while Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was at the ceremony.

“I have come today carrying with me the greatest responsibility and honour, the honour of winning this award,” Sheikh Issa said.

Dr Mounira Murkas Mikhail, of the Egypt Olympic Committee and Handball Federation, was the Women’s Sports Personality, while Dalma Rushdi Hisham, the Saudi Arabian rider, won the Emerging Athlete award in the male category.

The Libya football team, the only Arab nation to qualify for the African Cup of Nations this year, and the UAE Olympic football team, who won silver at the 2010 Asian Games, also won awards in their categories.

Disabled UAE athlete Mohammed Abdullah Ahmed Al Qaid, the winner of three gold medals at the World Games for Disabled, chess player Salem Abdulrehman, who finished third in the Under 20 World Cup, and Nader Mujtahed Ali bin Hendi, winner of the Super Stock Jet Ski World Cup, were the other UAE athletes honoured.

Abdullah Suwaidan Said bin Suwaidan, the UAE cycling coach, and the handball referees Mohammed Rashed Al Nuaimi and Omar Mohammed Al Marzouqi also won awards.