Tunisian Ons Jabeur
Ons Jabeur is very much a familiar face at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: It may have been a day of riveting action at the Australian Open on Sunday, but the eyes of the Arab world were fixed on the 25-year-old Tunisian achiever — Ons Jabeur. Now ranked world No. 78, she made the tennis fraternity sit up by becoming the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final when he brushed aside the challenge of China’s Wang Qiang 7-6(4) 6-1 in a 77-minute contest.

“(I am) trying to inspire many young generation back home either in Tunisia or the Arabic world, especially in Africa, which is amazing,” she said. “It’s not impossible. I made it,” said an ecstatic Jabeur, who is no stranger to the tennis fans here thanks to her regular appearances in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

The eye-catching performance, however, did not come overnight as Jabeur had been taking impressive strides on the Tour over the past two years. Last January, she outdid compatriot Selima Sfar — who was the highest ranked Arab woman when she broke into the top-100 and went on to become the 75th-ranked player in 2001. Jabeur reached a career-high ranking of 56 while in 2018, she was the first Arab to reach a final — or semi-final — on the WTA Tour at the 2018 Moscow Kremlin Cup.

The previous best from an Arab woman in a grand slam was a second round appearance by Sfar in Wimbledon, French Open and US Open in 2000s while the Arab world had tasted success only sporadically on the Tour with only five men and two women (Sfar and Jabeur) breaking into the top-100 ranking so far. The men in the elite group are Esmail Al Shafei (Egypt), Karim Alami (Morocco), Hicham Arazi (Morocco), Younes Al Aynaoui (Morocco) and Malek Jaziri (Tunisia).

Jabeur, who had been making waves in Melbourne by spoiling the farewell party of the former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki only a few days back, took pride in the fact that she was a “100% Tunisian product,” having turned down opportunities to train abroad to continue developing her game at home.

“I got a lot of offers to go to college in the US — wasn’t really an option for me,” said Jabeur. “I wanted to really go pro directly. I knew if I play in college, I cannot play professional tournaments. We don’t have much experience in Tunisia. But, hopefully, now we can see more and more.”

What spurred her on as a professional over the last two years? Jabeur had — in an interview with Gulf News last year — thanked her spouse Karim Kamoun with whom she got married in 2015. “Having good people around you really helps a lot in making progress,” she said in the interview, referring to her husband, who was a fencing champion.

“My husband is an athlete and he is in a position to help, whether mentally or in the physical aspects of the game. I am much fitter this year as I am practicing now and it is no secret,” she added in 2019.

Well, it’s certainly showing this year as Jabeur basked in glory on Sunday: “I’m receiving a lot of messages, especially people waking up at 5am in the morning to watch my match. I’m really proud.”

— With inputs from agencies