Despite temperatures expected to reach 45º Celsius on Saturday, families and friends in Tunisia are determined to gather and cheer for their national pride, Ons Jabeur, as she prepares to make history at the Wimbledon final.
Jabeur made a stunning comeback against Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday to secure her spot in a second straight final at the All England Club. Tunisians are struggling to contain their excitement as anticipation builds for the maiden Grand Slam title for Jabeur.
“I am proud of her both as a Tunisian and a tennis fan,” 30-year-old fan Sofien Achouri told The National on the eve of the match.
Achouri, who has been following Jabeur’s progress over the years, said that her impact on Tunisian society is more visible as she continues to garner more success and accolades.
“Parents are now signing up their kids for tennis classes and encouraging them to follow in her footsteps,” he said.
That is arguably Jabeur's most remarkable achievement. She has managed to turn the attention of a country whose sport’s culture revolves around football to an individual sport that was earlier seen as a game for the elite.
“People used to only watch tennis when Roland Garros took place and not many did that. Now we see more and more people following the game and cheering for it,” Achouri added.
Jabeur is brining about a change in the country's culture. Seeing male-dominated popular cafes have special screenings for a female athlete and screaming at the top of their lungs, like they would during a football match, is definitely not a common scene.
Jabeur's results are just one of many reasons why people love her. Her humility, while being a torchbearer for tennis in the Mena region, has touched people’s hearts everywhere, not only in Tunisia.
“We also take pride in her as a person, her discourse during interviews is something to feel proud about,” Achouri added.
“It illustrates the kind of discourse athletes should always have.”
For that very reason, even those who know nothing about tennis still cheer for Jabeur every time she plays, and not just at the Grand Slams.
“People have started recognising Tunisia thanks to Ons, can you believe it? This is something no one can deny and is certainly a matter of pride,” 27-year-old law student, Sarra, said.
Like many Tunisians, Sarra says she does not really understand the rules of tennis, but she’s always there to cheer when it’s a fellow Tunisian playing.
“It also makes me proud that a woman like me has managed to break through the glass ceiling and prove herself,” Sarra said.
“So even though I was not interested in tennis, I would cheer for her regardless because of what she has achieved.”
For sports reporter Ramzi Bahroun, seeing Jabeur’s growth over the years make him almost certain that she will not miss this golden chance on Saturday.
“Ons Jabeur has taken a huge leap in the last two years and managed to play beautiful, top tier tennis in this tournament,” Baroun said.
“She has been showing so much maturity and growth in the game and everyone from Tunisia, the Arab world and Africa are cheering for her and we hope she wins in this final,” he added.
But whether she wins or not, Jabeur has managed to give Tunisians a welcome break amid a scorching heatwave and crippling economic crisis.
“She filled Tunisians’ hearts with joy at a time where there are little things to be happy about in this country,” Bahroun concluded.