LONDON // Hopes are growing about the possibility of an Arab success on the world tennis stage. Ons Jabeur, a 15-year-old Tunisian, is on course at Wimbledon to at least emulate her encouraging performance in last month's French Open when she reached the final of the girls' singles. Jabeur made history at Roland Garros by battling through five rounds to become the first Arab female to reach the final of a grand slam junior tournament.
With Ukranian Elina Svitolina, her Paris conqueror, an expected quarter-final opponent having fallen at the first hurdle as the top seed here, Jabeur's prospects improved considerably. She duly justified her seeding of 12 by winning her first two matches to take her place in yesterday's last-16 line-up. That meant facing a higher-ranked player for the first time in this 64-girl event, but that did not worry Jabeur as she comfortably dealt with the challenge of Puerto Rico's Monica Puig, the fifth seed in only 67 minutes.
Jabeur, who eased through 6-3, 6-3 and next faces Yulia Putinseva, of Russia, is brimming with confidence about going all the way to Court One for the final on Saturday. "I believe I can beat whoever I play," she said. "I don't change my view whether I'm playing the top seed or an unseeded opponent. "I have not checked who is left in the draw but I am not scared of anybody. "That's the way I am. When I turn professional I don't intend being scared of Serena Williams if I have to play her one day. It is no use being frightened before you even go on court."
Jabeur is indeed aiming as high as a meeting with somebody of Williams's status. She wants to climb to the top of the junior ladder by winning this event and has set a bold target of breaking into the top 100 of the women's rankings in the next two years. "I want to be in the top 10 eventually, maybe before the end of the next three seasons," she said. She is confident that she can surpass the achievements of Selima Sfar, her Tunisian forerunner who became the only female representative of that country to secure a top-100 ranking - a career-high mark of 75 in 1977.
The Middle East has already produced a boys' champion in the world's most famous tennis tournament. That honour went to Egypt's Ismael Shafei, who won the title in 1964, a year after losing in the final on his first visit. Shafei went on to reach the quarter-finals of the men's singles in 1974 and at his peak held a world ranking of 34. There is a possibility that Jabeur may have to experience her first taste of a hostile crowd if she reaches the final.
Laura Robson, the schoolgirl darling of the British crowds and girls' champion two years ago, is looking menacing in the other half of the draw. Robson, who lost to Jelena Jankovic in the main draw on the opening day of the women's tournament, claimed her quarter-final place by defeating An-Sophie Mestach, of Belgium, 6-4, 7-6. email@example.com