Ons Jabeur 'excited' by prospect of WTA Finals moving to Saudi Arabia

Tunisian trailblazer believes hosting such a prestigious event in the kingdom will improve opportunities for tennis players in the region as she prepares to compete at the US Open

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 25: Ons Jabeur of Tunisia fields questions from the media during the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 25, 2023 in New York City.    Matthew Stockman / Getty Images / AFP (Photo by MATTHEW STOCKMAN  /  GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA  /  Getty Images via AFP)
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Ons Jabeur said she is "very excited" by the prospect of playing in the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia this year and believes hosting the season-finale tournament in the kingdom can enhance opportunities for tennis players throughout the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia are in talks with the WTA over hosting the prestigious Finals – comprising the top-eight players in the rankings – and a decision is expected to be made in the next couple of weeks.

The kingdom has already been confirmed as the hosts of the ATP Next Gen Finals, featuring the leading under-21 male players, after agreeing a four-year partnership with the ATP. It will be the first time Saudi Arabia will host a professional tennis tournament.

Now the WTA Tour's season finale event could follow suit, and Jabeur has thrown her support behind the possibility of the kingdom hosting the tournament.

"As an Arab player, I'm very excited to be there," Jabeur, 28, said during her pre-US Open press conference on Saturday. "I'm someone pushing for change, pushing to give more opportunities, especially for women.

"I know in Saudi Arabia they are changing things and evolving. I was there last year to give a speech and it was very nice meeting a lot of amazing women."

Jabeur is a trailblazer for Arab female sport having set numerous milestones during her tennis career. Among her many achievements, the former world No 2 is the highest-ranked Arab or African player in WTA and ATP history, and is the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final, which she has achieved three times.

Jabeur was also the first Arab woman to win a WTA Tour title, achieved at the Birmingham Classic in 2021, and she has since won a further three trophies, including a Masters at the Madrid Open.

Making her achievements even more impressive, Jabeur received minimal support from the Tunisian Tennis Federation as a junior and did not have access to the sort of infrastructure, facilities and opportunities provided by larger federations like the Lawn Tennis Association in the UK and the USTA in the United States.

Given her own journey, Jabeur is a passionate advocate of creating more opportunities for youth tennis players in the Arab region and feels hosting a tournament like the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia can be significant.

"For me, I was trying to push for tennis in Saudi Arabia," Jabeur said. "I think it's a great step and will help the Arab world have more tennis players and get more involved in sports.

"If they play there, and hopefully I qualify, it will be a great honour and opportunity to play, meet a lot of women who tell me they look up to me, and do a lot of great things together."

Jabeur, currently ranked world No 7, will be aiming for a strong end to a rollercoaster season to secure her place at the Finals, starting at the US Open next week. She returns to Flushing Meadows almost 12 months on from her run to the final, where she was defeated by world No 1 Iga Swiatek.

That defeat came just weeks after a heartbreaking loss to Elena Rybakina in the Wimbledon final, and in a case of history repeating itself, the Tunisian arrived in New York this year after another devastating defeat at Wimbledon, where she was beaten to the trophy by Marketa Vondrousova.

After this year's Wimbledon final, which she described as "the most painful loss of my career", Jabeur stepped away from the tour for a few weeks to reset, opting to skip the Montreal Masters before making her return at the Cincinnati Open.

"I honestly wasn't ready to play in Montreal and come back on tour so soon [after Wimbledon]," Jabeur said. "I needed some time for myself. They say time heals all wounds... I'm still waiting a bit. The Wimbledon loss still hurts but it's better than it was a month ago.

"I'm 28 years old now and I've learned from the mistakes of playing so many tournaments all the time. I was proud of myself that I took a step back, spent some time with my family, and got ready for the next tournaments."

It has been a turbulent season at times for Jabeur, who has been affected by various injuries throughout the year and was forced to miss the WTA Tour's Middle East swing after undergoing minor surgery.

But the focus now is on the US Open, where she begins her bid for an elusive maiden major title against Colombia's Camila Osorio on Tuesday.

"I'm always trying to be 100 per cent healthy but it's tough," Jabeur said. "I'm doing everything possible to be ready. It's looking great so I'm just going to take it one step at a time and see how it goes.

"I'm happy to be here, it's a great honour to return as a finalist. Let's see; I've been practicing really well this week and really excited to play."

Updated: August 27, 2023, 11:26 AM