WIMBLEDON, England — Ons Jabeur’s steady progress from year to year — climbing the tennis rankings, through the draws at various tournaments and, now, at Wimbledon — has led her to a Grand Prix singles final. Slam, the first woman from Africa to make it this far in the professional era.
No.3 seed Jabeur, a 27-year-old Tunisian, outclassed her good friend Tatjana Maria 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in an up-and-down semi-final on a sun-dappled center court. Thursday.
Jabeur is on a hot streak right now: he has won 11 straight and 22 of his last 24. Since professional players were first admitted to major tennis tournaments in 1968, an African has never been to a final. She is also the first Arab woman to go this far.
“I am a proud Tunisian woman who is here today. I know Tunisia is going crazy right now. I’m just trying to inspire, really, as much as I can,” she said. “I want to see more and more, not just Tunisian, Arab and African players on tour. I love the game and I want to share this experience with them.”
Jabeur will face 2019 champion Simona Halep or No.17 seed Elena Rybakina for the championship on Saturday. Halep and Rybakina were scheduled to play their semi-final at the All England Club later on Thursday.
Jabeur has been rising in the world of tennis in recent seasons. In 2020, at the Australian Open, she became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a major. Last year she produced all kinds of milestones: first Arab player to break into the top 10 of the men’s or women’s rankings, first Arab to win a WTA title and a quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon.
Now he has done two steps better.
“I really don’t know what to say. It’s a dream come true after years and years of work and sacrifice. I’m very happy that it’s paying off,” said Jabeur with a wide smile. “One more match now.”
As she closed out the biggest win of her career, she and Maria, a 34-year-old mother of two from Germany who is ranked 103rd, met at the net for a long hug. Jabeur whispered something in her friend’s ear. Then, after setting her racket down on the touchline, Jabeur returned to midfield to greet the crowd with the usual victory salute, except instead of going alone, she playfully dragged Maria with her, a gesture rare.
“I definitely wanted to share the moment with her at the end, because she’s such an inspiration to a lot of players, including myself,” Jabeur said. “Coming back after having two babies, I still can’t believe how she did it.”
Before their semi-final, Jabeur and Maria stood side by side, waiting to take the walk through the stadium corridors leading to the pitch. Close as they are, the pair avoided exchanging glances or small talk.
Close friends, yes. On this day, the opponents too, with all the scenery, the scenery and the stakes.
Neither had been to a Grand Slam semifinal before. Maria had never made it past the third round in any of her previous 34 appearances at major tournaments, and she only made it that far once, at Wimbledon in 2015.
The two hang out together frequently. They are, to use Jabeur’s term, “barbecue buddies.” Jabeur knows Maria’s two daughters so well that the German refers to her as “Aunt Ons.”
Maybe that’s why neither player showed much emotion during the match, even after fabulous points. Sure, Jabeur put his hands on his hips and Maria smiled sheepishly after a lively exchange with both of them on the net. And Jabeur held his left fist above his head after a particularly difficult but effective run, spinning his right across his body for a game-winning pass. Maria raised her right arm after going up 5-2 in the second set.
They offer unusual tennis brands full of variety and mixing speed. On the second point of the match, Jabeur earned a point by using a drop shot on a service return. Maria loves to hit slice forehands; Jabeur, quite capable of powerful groundstrokes, joined in on that from time to time.
After such a strong first set, Jabeur was much less effective in the second. He maybe he realized how close he was to reaching the final.
Suddenly, the bugs started piling up fast. His service was less sure of himself. Maria took full advantage. And then, suddenly, Jabeur was at his best again, taking a 5-0 lead in the third in 20 minutes.
After 17 unforced errors in the second set, Jabeur made a remarkably low total of three the rest of the way. Maria just couldn’t keep up.