Trailblazer Ons Jabeur has become the first African and Arab woman to reach the Wimbledon singles final – but she had to dismantle the fairytale run of her great friend, Tatjana Maria, to get there.
Mum-of-two Maria’s outlandish late-career run to the semi-finals at 34 has enchanted the tournament, but Jabeur, the Tunisian known to the German’s kids as ‘Aunt Ons’, eventually spoiled their fun, winning 6-2 3-6 6-1 on centre court on Thursday.
“I’m a proud Tunisian woman standing here today. I know in Tunisia, they’re going crazy right now!” said the 27-year-old pioneer Jabeur, addressing the centre court crowd.
“I just try to inspire really as much as I can – I want to see, not just Tunisian, but more Arab and African players on tour.
“I just love the game and want to share this experience with them. I see the juniors playing here at under-14, I saw them and I hope they grow up and play here on the centre court too.”
Her performance was largely inspiring, too, even if it was uneven.
Maria had battled back from a set down three times earlier in the tournament and when the German again fought to level the match at one set all, the world No.103 looked in position to pull off another unlikely triumph.
But watched by Australian Margaret Court, the last mother-of-two to make the semi-finals at Wimbledon 47 years ago, Maria found the ‘real’ Jabeur materialising in the final set of a most entertaining contest.
The pair are great barbecue buddies but Jabeur, the world No.2, simply had too much skill, and far too much variety of shot, as she roasted Maria on a baking centre court in both the first and final stanzas.
Jabeur played a strangely absent-minded second set but much of her tennis was exquisite, like a volley performed while doing a full pirouette and a winning forehand played cross-court from almost behind her back.
Maria, playing in her first quarter-final at the 49th attempt, had been outplayed in the opening set.
Yet her fighting spirit simply couldn’t be questioned as she took a 3-1 lead in the second set and frustrated her friend with the quality of her sliced backhand and a more aggressive approach.
“I think it was more difficult running for her balls. She killed me! She has to make me a barbecue now to make up for all the running she made me do!” laughed Jabeur, after they had shared an emotional embrace at the end.
“I definitely wanted to share the moment with her at the end because she’s an inspiration to so many players, including me.
“Coming back after having two babies? I still can’t believe how she did it!”
The gifted Jabeur pulled out the full panoply of her exotic strokeplay in the last set to triumph and set up a final on Saturday against either 2019 champion Simona Halep or Elena Rybakina, who was seeking to become Kazakhstan’s first-ever finalist.