Ons Jabeur makes history by reaching Wimbledon final

Tunisian beats Tatjana Maria on Centre Court for her first Grand Slam final

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Ons Jabeur ended the magical Wimbledon run of close friend Tatjana Maria and moved one victory away from creating her own fairytale story at the All England Club.

Jabeur edged an entertaining Centre Court encounter 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 on Thursday to remain on course to be the first woman from an Arab country and the continent of Africa to win a Grand Slam when she takes on Elena Rybakina in Saturday's final.

The third seed proved too good for Maria in the end but the mum-of-two went down fighting after bringing her remarkable 35th appearance at a major to its conclusion in the semi-final stage.

Maria had never made the second week of a Grand Slam before this summer and only gave birth last April but lost out to first-time finalist Jabeur, who the 34-year-old will likely be backing to win in Saturday’s showpiece.

Jabeur was magnanimous in victory and ensured her friend Maria shared in the applause at the end after both had embraced at the net.

“I want to say it is a dream come true after years and years of work. I am really happy it pays off and I continue for one more match now,” the Tunisian said on-court.

“I definitely wanted to share the moment with Tatjana at the end because she is such an inspiration for so many players, including me, coming back after two babies. I still can’t believe how she did it.”

The friendship of the duo had been well-documented but there was a noticeable lack of eye contact between the “barbecue buddies” before they walked out on to Centre Court.

It was their fourth meeting but first since 2018 and plenty had changed since, with Jabeur ranked second in the world and Maria now a mother to Cecilia in addition to eight-year-old Charlotte.

Eight was the number of minutes it took for Maria to hold her first service game in a clear indicator of how tough a task she faced if she wanted to continue her dream run in SW19.

Jabeur would eventually break at the fifth time of asking and another followed in the seventh game, which saw the Tunisian produce a drop shot on the spin which Maria returned to draw big applause from a 15,000 crowd.

Back-to-back aces helped the highest seed left in the competition take the opener in 38 minutes to move one set away from the final.

Maria was no stranger to being behind in the Championships, with four of her five matches going to a third set and three of them lasting over two hours.

Those trademark powers of recovery were on full display at the beginning of the second when she rallied back to hold from 15-40 down before she finally earned a first break point on Jabeur’s serve.

It had taken the German almost an hour to do the same against compatriot Jule Niemeier in the last eight but history repeated itself as the third seed was broken in the fourth game of the second set after a wonderful exchange of drop shots and slices.

A double-fault almost let Jabeur back in immediately but supreme defensive skills from Maria, who was making some exceptional lob shots with her back against the wall, clinched another key hold and eventually the set.

A big weight of expectation had been on Jabeur’s shoulders for a lengthy period of time but she had handled the pressure impeccably at the All England Club so far and did so again and found her best tennis at a critical time to ease home.

In the other semi-final, Rybakina defeated 2019 champion Simona Halep 6-3, 6-3 to reach her first Grand Slam final.

The 23-year-old from Kazakhstans the youngest Wimbledon finalist since 2015 when Garbine Muguruza lost to Serena Williams.

Halep, the 2018 French Open champion, had reached the semifinals without dropping a set but was broken early in both sets.

Updated: July 07, 2022, 4:45 PM
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