Back home in Tunisia, Ons Jabeur is referred to as ‘Wazeerat Al Sa’ada,’ which translates to ‘Minister of Happiness.’ It’s not difficult to see why as the 27-year-old feisty women’s tennis player has - in a giant leap over the past one year - become the most successful tennis player from the Arab world.
Yes, both among men and women - if ATP or WTA rankings are the benchmark as the ever-smiling performer with solid ground strokes is currently world number two and made history on Thursday when she became the first-ever Arab player to make a slam final at the Wimbledon. She will be up against Elena Rybakina, another surprise finalist, and the excitement level in the small north African country for Saturday's final must be building up now.
When Jabeur, a junior singles champion at Roland Garros as a 16-year-old, made the quarter finals of Australian Open in 2020, it generated a great deal of euphoria as one felt she had arrived as the premier women’s player in the region. Since then, she has come a long way and the Arab world will want her to go the distance now.
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It's to Jabeur's credit that she kept on raising the bar gradually as she made two back-to-back quarters at the Wimbledon before going one step forward this year. The past one year, in fact, had seen her grow in leaps and bounds and she became the first Arab or African player to win a WTA 1000 title, thanks to a 7-5, 0-6, 6-2 success over American Jessica Pegula, in Madrid.
However, the first round blues of French Open caught up with her as she crashed out in the first round but picked herself on time for the grass circuit. A little piece of statistic sums up the kind of form that she has been in - the quarter final win over Marie Bouzkova was her 10th straight win on grass, having arrived at the All England Club with a title in Berlin in the lead-up.
When she breached the top-10 in WTA rankings last year, another first for the Arab world, Jabeur had already positioned herself streets ahead of her compatriot Selima Sfar - who had peaked at No.75 before retirement. However, Jabeur’s hunger for success, fuelled to a great degree by her husband-cum-fitness coach Karim Kamoun (a professional fencer, one of the few Olympic sports in which Tunisia excel along with swimming) over the last five years meant she was physically and mentally equipped to give herself the best chance to shine on the big stage.
“Even before. I always wanted to get there, to be No. 1 in the world. Top 10 I know is the beginning,’’ was Jabeur’s war cry last year on reaching the top-10. “I know I deserve this place from a long time since I was playing well. But I want to prove that I deserve to be here, I deserve to be one of the Top 10 players.”
Well, she has now. The Arab world has seen quite a few accomplished names in men’s tennis from Egypt, Morocco and their moments of glory. Younis El Ayanoui, who achieved the highest ATP ranking among them, went as far as 14th while Ismail El Shafei stunned the tennis fraternity when he beat the mighty Bjorn Borg at his backyard at the Big W in third round in 1974.
Jabeur, now, has gone one-up on them and Wimbledon 2022 may be her best chance to go all the way - though the job won't be easy!