Dubai: Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, the top tennis player in both Africa and the Arab world, has a dream that her on-court exploits will one day at least run parallel to those of Japan’s World No 1 Naomi Osaka.
“I’m now the Naomi Osaka of Africa,” Jabeur joked after her 6-4, 7-6 win over Croatia’s Donna Vekic to book a Round Two meeting with two-time defending champion and sixth seed Elina Svitolina on Tuesday.
“It’s inspiring to see how players can inspire a country or a continent,” the 24-year-old said. “For me, I’m really happy to represent Tunisia. I’m trying to give my best, to behave good on the court, to try to give good example for the young generation who want to achieve what I’m doing right now. I’m trying to send a message that it’s not impossible. You have to work hard. I want to see a lot of players from Tunisia to be here one day. It’s one of my dreams.”
After a breakthrough 2018 that included the final of the Kremlin Cup — the first Arab player to reach a final on the WTA Tour — Jabeur went on to defeat top players such as Sloane Stephens, Anett Kontaveit and Anastasija Sevastova and reach a career-high ranking of 62. The 2019 has been good for Jabeur as she’s come into the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships with an all-time high of No 56.
“It’s difficult since we didn’t have many players in the top 100, or even 300 before,” she said. “It’s tough. For me as a player, I find it more tough to see someone who was in the top 100 or top 200, so they can give me advice. I had to go to the tournaments, discover on my own. I had to have my own experience.
“Facilities are very important, but you need to find someone who can guide you to the top level, because it’s really tough to be here. I think it’s the most important thing. That’s why I want to share my experience. I want to give this to the kids who don’t have to go through what I went through, so I can save them some time or I can share my experience. It’s going to be really helpful. Either in Tunisia or Africa, I’m really happy to do it. I hope after my career I can help this young generation. Now I’m trying to do a little bit. I’m 24, but when we played Fed Cup in Luxembourg, it was fun. There were two girls younger than me. I felt like a leader there, and I loved it. It was nice to give advice to these young girls. If anyone is watching now, I’m really open to give any advice they want.”
Jabeur’s greatest success came as a junior, when she won the girls’ singles title at the 2011 French Open, having already reached the final of the same event one year prior. Making her second main draw appearance in Dubai, Jabeur now wants to see how far she can go, provided she can get past defending champion Svitolina on Tuesday.
“We know each other from junior days,” Jabeur said. “It’s going to be nice to play each other. The last time was in Taipei and it was very close for me. But she has improved a lot, and so have I. It’s going to be tricky match. She likes to play here, so let’s see how it will go,” she maintained.
“I’m going to give my best. No stress for me. Probably more stress for her. She’s better ranked. But I’m going to have fun on the court and with the crowd behind me, hopefully I can get the win.”