Ons Jabeur on track for more history as Wimbledon title comes into sharp focus

Tunisian is in fine form and, with early exits of several rivals, has emerged as favourite to win her first Grand Slam

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On a day when Wimbledon celebrated 100 years of its hallowed Centre Court, and a string of legendary past champions was introduced into the arena to rapturous applause, somewhere else on the grounds of the All England Club, a current player was preparing to continue her latest bid for more history of her own.

Ons Jabeur has been breaking ground for much of her career but those pioneering efforts have reached an entirely new level the past few years. The Tunisian can lay claim to numerous 'first Arab woman' milestones in tennis: the first to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final, the first to win a WTA Tour title, the first to win a Masters title. At a career-high No 2, Jabeur is the highest-ranked African or Arab player – male or female – in history.

An inspiration to African and Arab girls and boys, it is a status Jabeur has embraced. "I don't come from a rich family, so you have to stop finding excuses, go for it, and be yourself," she said on Sunday after booking her place in the quarter-finals with a 7-6, 6-4 over Belgian 24th seed Elise Mertens.

Now Jabeur is just three victories away from a first Grand Slam trophy, and expectations are rapidly increasing that this year's Wimbledon will be the scene of her breakthrough triumph.

Most important has been Jabeur's own form. The 27-year-old is yet to drop a set, and having raced through the first three rounds, impressed once again when faced with the step up in quality presented by Mertens in the last 16. The Tunisian is currently on a nine-match winning run, which includes the Berlin title in the lead-up to Wimbledon.

While Jabeur would fancy her chances against anyone at present, her title hopes have been aided significantly by the earlier-than-expected exits of several chief rivals, most notably the shock third-round defeat of Iga Swiatek, which brought to an end the world No 1's 37-match winning streak. Combined with other results, Jabeur is the only top-10 player left in the tournament and the last remaining seed in the bottom half of the draw.

As the path opens up to reach the final, the Tunisian is in combative mood. “My goals are very high for this tournament. No matter who’s coming, I’m going to fight till the end because I really want the title,” Jabeur said.

Yet, she remains calm and collected on the court, wowing the crowd not only with her entertaining brand of tennis but also her impressive football skills that would even leave her hero Cristiano Ronaldo impressed.

Of course, many challenges still await. Up next is unseeded Marie Bouzkova, who advanced to her first Grand Slam quarter-final by beating former world No 4 Caroline Garcia in straight sets. Get beyond that and a showdown with either the experienced Tatiana Maria or impressive youngster Jule Niemeier awaits in the semi-final.

Should Jabeur reach the final, someone from a competitive-looking top half will emerge to provide the last hurdle. Former world No 1 Simona Halep would appear her most likely challenger and the Romanian displayed the form that saw her capture the 2019 title in her destruction of fourth seed Paula Badosa in the last-16. Talented American Amanda Anisimova, big-serving 17th seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, and Australian Ajla Tomljanovic - into her second successive quarterfinal - comprise the rest of the top half quarter-final line-up.

The journey to this stage has been far from straightforward for Jabeur, who took six years to crack the top 100 after winning the French Open junior title at 16 and less than three years ago was still languishing outside the top 50. By her own admission, she struggled earlier in her career to find the right balance to maximise her undeniable talent.

“There are a lot of things that happened that shouldn’t but I learnt from my mistakes,” she told The National in 2019 when on the verge of the top 50. "Many people were telling me how talented I am – I know I’m talented but talent without work is nothing and talent with so much work is also nothing.

"I think sometimes I was working too hard and there were no results. I got annoyed and probably didn’t win any matches. I wasn’t enjoying being on the court."

Jabeur is certainly enjoying herself now and whether or not it is her lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday evening, the Tunisian will remain an icon to many.

"I’m just someone that enjoys life a lot,” she said on Sunday. “For me, a tennis career is going to be very short. What’s more important for me is my character and how people talk about me.”

Updated: July 05, 2022, 4:28 AM
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