WIMBLEDON, England – Ons Jabeur’s historic run of success continues as she becomes the first African woman to reach a singles final of a Grand Slam in the professional era. Her win on Thursday at Wimbledon earned her a spot against Elena Rybakina.
No. 3 seed Jabeur, a 27-year-old Tunisian, defeated her good friend Tatjana Maria 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in a semi-final on the sun-drenched Center Court on Thursday.
Jabeur is on quite a run these days, having won 11 straight games and 22 of her last 24. Since professional players were first admitted to major tennis tournaments in 1968, no African woman has ever been to a final. She is also the first Arab woman to have made it this far.
“I am a proud Tunisian woman standing here today. I know they are going crazy in Tunisia right now. I just try to inspire as much as possible,” she said. “I always want to see more – not just Tunisian – Arab, African players on tour. I just love the game and want to share that experience with them.”
She now meets Rybakina, who defeated 2019 champion Simona Halep for the championship on Center Court 6-3, 6-3 on Saturday.
Both 17th-seeded Rybakina and third-seeded Jabeur are first-time Grand Slam finalists.
Rybakina is the first player from Kazakhstan to reach a grand final. Jabeur is the first Arab woman to reach a grand final.
Jabeur has risen in the tennis world in recent seasons. In 2020, she became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a major at the Australian Open. The past year has produced all sorts of milestones: first Arab player to make the top 10 in either the men’s or women’s rankings, first Arab to win a WTA title and a Wimbledon quarter-final.
Now she’s taken it two steps better.
“I really don’t know what to say. It is a dream come true of years of work and sacrifice. I’m really happy that it’s paying off,” said Jabeur with a big smile. “Now another match.”
Celebrating the biggest win of her career, she and Maria – a 34-year-old mother of two from Germany who is ranked No. 103 – met at the net for a big hug. Jabeur whispered something in her mate’s ear. Then, after depositing her racquet on the sidelines, Jabeur returned to the center of the pitch to wave the usual victory wave to the crowd – except instead of walking alone, she playfully dragged Maria with her, an unusual gesture.
“I really wanted to share the moment with her at the end because she’s such an inspiration to so many players, including me,” 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 path through the halls of the stadium that led to the pitch. As close as they are, the couple avoided exchanging looks or conversations.
close friends, yes On this day also opponents with quite environment, stage and missions.
Neither of them had been in a Grand Slam semifinal before. Maria hadn’t progressed past the third round in any of her 34 previous appearances in major tournaments – and she’d only gotten that far once, at Wimbledon in 2015.
The two often hang out together. They are, to use Jabeur’s term, “barbecue buddies”. Jabeur knows Maria’s two daughters so well that the German called them “Tante Ons”.
Maybe that’s why neither player showed much emotion during the game, even after great points. Sure, Jabeur put her hands on her hips and Maria gave a sheepish smile after a lively exchange with both at the net. And Jabeur, after a particularly difficult but effective run, held her left fist overhead and rotated the forehand across her body for a passing winner. Maria raised her right arm after taking a 5-2 lead in the second set.
They offer unusual brands of speed mixing, varied tennis. On the second point of the game, Jabeur won a point by using a drop shot on a return of serve. Maria loves to hit slice forehand; Jabeur, who is quite capable of powerful groundstrokes, interfered occasionally.
After such a strong first set, Jabeur was significantly less effective in the second. Maybe it struck her how close she was to the finals.
Suddenly, mistakes began to pile up. Her serve was less confident. Maria took full advantage of this. And then, just as suddenly, Jabeur got back to her best self, pulling away 5-0 within 20 minutes in the third minute.
After 17 unforced errors in set number two, Jabeur made a remarkably low total of three the rest of the way. Maria just couldn’t keep up.
Rybakina, 23, is the youngest Wimbledon finalist since 2015 when Garbiñe Muguruza lost to Serena Williams.
Halep, the 2018 French Open winner, had reached the semifinals without dropping a set but was broken early in both sets.
The 30-year-old Romanian was unable to defend her Wimbledon title last year – after the 2020 edition was cancelled- due to a calf injury.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.