Ons Jabeur's historic Wimbledon came to an end at the quarter-finals on Tuesday, but the Tunisian leaves the All England Club having earned another milestone in her trailblazing career and a swathe of new supporters.
Jabeur, 26, had overcome three successive Grand Slam champions to become the first Arab woman, and first Tunisian player, to reach the last-eight at Wimbledon. Given the irresistible performance of opponent Aryna Sabalenka in the quarter-finals, she might have just faced the next Grand Slam champion, too.
The second seed from Belarus is one of the most powerful players on the WTA Tour and has a game ready-made for the grass courts, so her previous disappointments at Wimbledon — she had only won one match in three previous visits — were a mystery.
Sabalenka has evidently unlocked the enigma this year and was well worth her 6-4, 6-3 win over Jabeur to reach her first major semi-final. It was a display of constant pressure and while the craft and shot-making of Jabeur contributed to an entertaining duel, Sabalenka's power and aggression ultimately prevailed.
“I'm really happy with this win. It's always tough against Ons, she's an amazing player and person,” Sabalenka, 23, said. “I'm happy it looks like everything is working for me. It's really tricky, [making] shots on the grass. It's sometimes hard to do anything with the ball. It fits my game and I'm really enjoying my time on the court.”
Sabalenka advances to a semi-final against former world No 1 Karolina Pliskova for what promises to be a battle of the big servers. Pliskova, seeded eighth, is another player who should be suited to grass but had until this year struggled to make much of an impact at Wimbledon. There were few struggles in her quarter-final match against Switzerland's Viktorija Golubic, though, as the Czech raced to a 6-2, 6-2 victory.
“Pliskova is a great player and she's serving well,” Sabalenka said. “Her game fits really well on the grass and I'm going to do all I can to enjoy this one.”
For Jabeur, the defeat brings to an end a highly successful grass court swing. She won her first WTA Tour title at the Birmingham Classic last month — another historic milestone as the first Arab woman to win a top-tier tournament — before her unprecedented run at Wimbledon.
The stunning victories over two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza and former Roland Garros winner Iga Swiatek have made Jabeur a firm fan favourite and her contribution to these Championships were recognised by thunderous applause as she walked off Centre Court.
Excitingly, this feels only the beginning for Jabeur. Her talent has never been questioned but only relatively recently has she had the application to match. It won't be too long until more milestones are achieved and the leading light of Arab tennis gives her fans in the region more cause to celebrate.
Jabeur can take inspiration from another late bloomer on the WTA Tour as Angelique Kerber continued her sudden improvement in form to reach the semi-finals.
Kerber, who won the first of her three Grand Slam titles at the age of 28, struggled for much of the season before stepping foot on the grass courts. After winning a Wimbledon tune-up event in Bad Homburg, the German extended her winning streak to 10 matches with a routine 6-2, 6-3 victory over Czech 19th seed Karolina Muchova.
“I really enjoy every moment here. It was a tight match, she played really well and I knew I had to play my best tennis today,” said Kerber, who is two wins away from her second Wimbledon title.
“I'm so happy to be in the semi-final, it means a lot to me and I'm so happy to be here playing in front of you guys — thank you so much.”
When asked if she could explain her dramatic change in form, Kerber said: “It's the grass, and you guys. I was excited to play the grass court season after a one year break. I am so happy I can play my tennis again, having my heart on the court and enjoying my time. I'm so happy to be in the semis now.”
Kerber, the 2018 champion, will take on Ashleigh Barty for a place in the final after the world No 1 and top seed came through an all-Australian battle with a comfortable 6-1 6-3 win over Ajla Tomljanovic.