Tunisian Ons Jabeur
Tunisian Ons Jabeur Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Ons Jabeur, the Arab world’s top tennis player is hoping to maintain her momentum when competitive tennis ultimately marks a return around the globe.

Now limited at her residence in Tunis, Jabeur — who was named the Arab Woman of the Year in Sport last year — has become more of a mainstay on the WTA Tour since the past few years.

“Maybe things won’t be the same as at the beginning of the season. Perhaps, my mindset won’t be the same, but I will always be hungry to win and to play even better and prove myself on court as the season goes on, whenever it does,” Jabeur told Gulf News in a chat from Tunisia.

Ons Jabeur won the French Open Junior title in 2011
Ons Jabeur won the French Open Junior title in 2011 Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

“Everything happens for a reason. I am staying positive at all times. Maybe this period will give me rest while I make the time to work more on a few shots and practice more. Perhaps now the momentum may be lost a bit, but I am very positive and optimistic that all will be well”.

First introduced to tennis at age three by her mother, Jabeur reached two junior Grand Slam girls’ singles finals at the French Open in 2010 and 2011, winning the title in the second appearance. She became the first Arab player to win a junior Grand Slam singles title since Ismail Al Shafei of Egypt won the Wimbledon boys’ title way back in 1964.

She current ranking on the WTA is No. 39 — also her highest after becoming the first Arab woman to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open, earlier this year. She is also the highest-ranked Arab player in WTA history.

“Honestly the biggest challenge is to stay at home not knowing when I am to make a return to active playing,” Jabeur said.

“They are saying things will be back to normal in July, but I am honestly not sure if it is going to be possible by then. So, my goal at the moment is to stay healthy and enjoy this period that we are going through. As a tennis player I am not always home, so maybe this is a good time for me to enjoy home and a normal family life.”

The WTA and ATP tours have been suspended at least until mid-July with Wimbledon already cancelled and the French Open postponed till late September. Some of the top players have been realistic while admitting that the governing bodies should scrap this season and resume normal activity in 2021.

“All the time, I am trying to stay positive and try to do things that I couldn’t get the time to do before. Of course, at all times I try to eradicate the negatives. And whenever the season resumes I know I am going to be OK and ready to be at my best playing at my top level,” she said.

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur has been passionate about tennis from a young age
Tunisia's Ons Jabeur has been passionate about tennis from a young age Image Credit: Supplied

Born on August 28, 1994 to Samira and Ridha Jabeur in the small town of Ksar Hellal, Jabeur grew up in the larger nearby coastal town of Sousse along with her two older brothers (Hatem and Marwen) and an older sister, Yasmine.

She trained under coach Nabil Mlika for 10 years before moving to the capital city of Tunis when she was 12 to train at the Lycee Sportif El Menzah, a national sport high school for the nation’s up-and-coming athletes.

Jabeur has won 11 singles titles and one doubles title on the ITF Women’s Circuit, and her lone WTA final was at the Premier-level 2018 Kremlin Cup in Russia.

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia  in action agianst Alison Riske of USA
Ons has thrived in Dubai

Dubai has been a happy hunting ground for Jabeur and this year, she erased memories of her retirement against Elina Svitolina in the 2019 edition as the Tunisian battled over three sets for her first round win against American Alison Riske. However, she battled in vain a day later before going down in three close sets in their Round of 16 encounter against top seed and eventual champion, Simona Halep.

Besides her close following of fans, Jabeur has known a few UAE-based tennis professionals including former Davis Cuppers from Tunisia, Essam Jalali (now also her coach) and UAE Tennis Federation Technical Secretary, Slah Bramly.

After the Dubai Tennis Championships, Jabeur travelled to the US for the events in Indian Wells and Miami, but then came the lockdown forcing her and the team to undergo a mandatory two-week home quarantine on return, in Tunis.

“Since my return from New York, I have been practicing either at home or in a private gym. Sometimes I take my bike and do some biking with the team. I do a lot of running and try to catch up with tennis sometimes if I can find a court to play. I am only hoping that this virus will pass soon,” she related.

Jabeur was wary of the ATP and WTA merger of tours suggested by former world number one and 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer a couple of months back.

“I think we should look at the sport in a whole new perspective. We have to see if women’s players will have their rights when they combine the two tours. Honestly, it is two different bodies and that’s the way things should be. I am really not sure how it is going to work, if at all they decide the merge,” she said.

“The WTA is trying to work out several things, including equal prize money, and they are going in the right direction. I think we need to need to study the pros and the cons. The WTA has done well to establish a good level for women’s tennis, and I feel they are doing a great job.”