Ons Jabeur’s long-standing goal is for her historic exploits on the court to lead more Arab women into tennis. Becoming the first Arab player to win a Grand Slam in the French Open final next month would do wonders for achieving that.
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The 27-year-old Tunisian became a leading contender for clay tennis’s biggest prize with her audacious three-set victory over American Jessica Pegula in Madrid on Saturday.
In doing so, Jabeur, endearing and very expressive, wrote another piece of tennis history.
Her 7-5, 0-6, 6-2 victory made her the first Arab or African woman to win a WTA 1000 title.
Her title in Birmingham last year was the first for an Arab player on the circuit and she is the first Arab player – male or female – to break into the top 10.
Indeed, she will regain her previous highest ranking of seven on Monday.
With 12 wins leading the clay circuit so far this season – and with the retirement of Australian world number one Ashleigh Barty – the omens look positive for her.
However, she has another glass ceiling to smash to reach the last four of a Grand Slam for the first time – so she has two quarter-finals under her belt in Australia in 2020 and Wimbledon last year.
Jabeur, the junior champion of Roland Garros in 2011 is however armed with a powerful weapon apart from her strokeplay.
“Definitely all those matches I’ve won on clay will give me a lot of confidence,” she said as she soaked up her win in Madrid.
“When you’re confident like that and you win a lot of games, I think I should take that opportunity to really push forward and win.”
Jabeur admits not having watched tennis much as a child and it was her husband Karim Kamoun who was the most “obsessed with Roland Garros”.
Everything is due to him
Kamoun was present in Madrid, he placed a kiss on his cheek after his triumph, as did his siblings and the head of the Tunisian tennis federation to see his memorable victory.
Jabeur welcomes such attention, but she would like to see more company in the locker room during the tour, as Arab players are rare. Fellow countrywoman Selima Sfar hit a career-high 75 in the world in 2001, but there was little progress for other Arab players until Jabeur came on the scene.
“Being the only Arab is not easy being on tour at the moment,” she said at Wimbledon last year.
“I just want to say that if I did it (succeed on tour), it’s not impossible.
“As I said before, I always try to inspire other generations.”
Jabeur’s favorite player of all time is Andy Roddick, three-time American Wimbledon finalist and 2003 US Open champion, but it was Hicham Arazi, four-time Moroccan Grand Slam quarter-finalist, who was his role model.
Jabeur said just as Arazi inspired her, she hopes she can do the same for Arab women.
“Honestly, he really inspired me, and I’m trying to do the same here,” she said.
“I like to see how the French are together (on tour), the Americans, the Australians, and I want to see that, you know, with my country.
“It doesn’t matter, Tunisia or Egypt or Morocco, I really want to see more and more players.”
Even before her big run at Wimbledon last year, Jabeur’s force of personality and talent had already convinced others, including American legend Venus Williams, that she would achieve her goal.
“You’re going to see a whole different generation of North African women stepping into tennis,” Williams said.
“Everything will be due to him.”
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