Tunisia’s ‘Minister of Happiness’ on the brink of Wimbledon history
On the eve of Wimbledon this year, Ons Jabeur was asked about her mood ahead of the tournament.
“I have a feeling about this one for some reason,” she said. “It’s going to be amazing. For me, I’ll be one hundred percent ready to win it.
Two weeks later, the Tunisian will step onto center court for her first Grand Slam final, seeking a place in history as the first Arab woman and first woman from Africa to win a major title.
Although he is only a recent star, Jabeur’s popularity within tennis is no secret. His sunny disposition and infectious charm earned him the nickname “Minister of Happiness” in his home country, where his performances helped boost morale in a nation beset by economic and political crises.
Rivals on the women’s tour echoed that sentiment, speaking of her in glowing terms. After defeating Germany’s Tatjana Maria in the semi-final on Thursday, Jabeur broke Wimbledon convention by grabbing her opponent’s hand and pulling it to the center of the court to a standing ovation from the crowd.
“It was really nice of her that at the end she wanted to celebrate with me even though it was her time,” Maria said. “She’s an amazing person. I’m really happy for her and I hope she can win.
At 27, Jabeur is not a young emerging talent. Since winning the junior French Open in 2011, she has steadily climbed the world rankings, entering the top 100 in 2017 and the top 50 in 2020. At Wimbledon last year, she reached the quarter-finals – only the second time she had passed the round of 16 of a grand slam.
Jabeur’s current form also comes as no surprise to sports fans. She entered the tournament as the third seed and last month became the number two ranked player in the world. Asked ahead of the championships who could challenge world number one Iga Świątek for the title, three-time Wimbledon winner Chrissie Evert said Jabeur was “pretty much the only one”.
“I think to win you have to have an all-court game, you have to be flexible, adaptable. It helps to have big serve and power. She has it all,” Evert said.
Jabeur’s march to her first final was relatively straightforward, as her top-ranked rivals fell. Świątek suffered a shock exit in round three, while number two seed Anett Kontaveit was beaten a round earlier. Britain’s top player Emma Raducanu was knocked out in the second round while Serena Williams, returning from a year away from tennis, lost in the first round.
From now on, the Tunisian is only one game away from seeing her name engraved on the Venus Rosewater Dish, the tray offered to the Wimbledon women’s champion.
“I often imagined myself giving the right speech, holding the trophy, seeing the trophy,” Jabeur said after his semi-final victory. ” I did everything. Now I really need to hold the trophy. It’s the only thing I have left. But I believe in this. I know I can do it.
Her opponent on Saturday will be Elena Rybakina, the 23-year-old Muscovite who has represented Kazakhstan since 2018. Neither player has ever reached a Grand Slam final.
“I know how Ons plays. She knows how I play. We know each other well,” Rybakina said. “We are going on this journey together. I think it’s just amazing to think that you’re making history.
The positivity surrounding the women’s final contrasts with the moodier mood of the men’s final, where Serbian Novak Djokovic will contest his seventh Wimbledon title against stormy Australian Nick Kyrgios on Sunday.
Kyrgios’ journey to his first Grand Slam final was littered with sparkling performances, bad-tempered outbursts and combative exchanges with the press. He was fined for spitting in the direction of a spectator in the first round, accused of intimidation by an opponent and later beating a journalist who accused him of acting as if he was above the rules. rules for flouting Wimbledon’s strict dress code.
More damaging was a summons Kyrgios received during the tournament over domestic abuse allegations in Australia made by a former girlfriend. He is due in court in Canberra next month on a charge of common assault following an incident in December last year. Lawyers for the player said he “is not considered charged with an offense until the first appearance” in court.
Kyrgios’ path to the final was ultimately aided by an injury to Spaniard Rafael Nadal, which ruled out the 22-time Grand Slam winner from their semi-final match.
Additional reporting by Nic Fildes in Sydney