Ons Jabeur Breaking Barriers, Both On And Off Tennis Court

MELBOURNE, January 25, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Ons Jabeur is the face of women’s tennis in Tunisia, the small North African nation that is bordered by Algeria, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea. Just 25, Jabeur is currently ranked No. 78 after reaching a career-best 51st last season. Her game, like World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty’s, is fun to watch and filled with plenty of tricky slice and well-timed drop shots.

Jabeur, who had previous reached the third round in both the French Open and the US Open, broke new ground on Friday when she reached the fourth round (round of 16) at a Grand Slam for the first time in her career – defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, in Melbourne Arena. With her latest win, Jabeur became the first Tunisian — male or female — and the first Arab woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

“I’m really happy, especially here at this Grand Slam – usually, (here) I’d lose first round – but today I’m really happy that I made it through to the fourth round,” Jabeur expressed in an on-court interview after her win against Wozniacki. “I don’t have much experience, so I was a little bit nervous, especially in the last set. She plays unbelievable and she runs really good.”

On Sunday, Jabeur will face No. 27 seed Wang Qiang of China, who upset 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams from the United States, on Margaret Court Arena.

When Jabeur walks out on the court, not only is she representing her country – in recent years the only other Tunisian professional on either the men’s or women’s tour has been veteran Malek Jaziri – she’s representing an entire region. She embraces being the highest-ranked Arab women’ in tennis history.

At the end of 2019, she was recognized at the Arab Women of the Year ceremonies in London for her sporting achievements in tennis.

“At the ceremony, I met a lot of successful Arab women, from different fields,” she told the Australian Open website. “It was amazing. I really felt that we’re improving, we’re getting there, and we are gaining a higher status and gaining recognition across the globe.

“When I’m playing at the Grand Slams or anywhere, I try to show that this is the Arab woman, this is what we are. I don’t see any difference between me, or any European or American woman. For me, I’m happy I’m giving this good example and hopefully I can inspire more ladies in any field, to believe in their dreams and achieve their dreams.”

Muguruza regaining her fighting spirit

When 32nd-ranked Garbiñe Muguruza upset No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-2 Saturday night to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open for the fifth time in eight tries, she showed a fighting spirit that’s been missing for a long time.

The former World No. 1 Muguruza, who is a past French Open and Wimbledon champion, continued her dominance against Svitolina from Ukraine, having ousted her for the fourth time from a major competition.

“I was very concentrated and focused on what I had to do,” Muguruza said after her victory. “Everything went pretty quickly my way, so I’ll take it. … I played a very good match. I managed to stop her and took the match to my side, which I’m very happy about.”

Muguruza has fought through a viral illness early this season that forced her to withdraw from the Hobart International after reaching the semifinals earlier this month. It’s a good sign that she’s winning tough matches when she’s not feeling 100 percent.

“It’s definitely a good sign for me when you don’t feel good and you manage to win matches and compete. Even if you’re not feeling great, there’s always a chance there. You just have to find your way,” she said.

“I’m pleased with my fighting spirit and accepting many situations that are not on your side sometimes.”

During the off-season, Muguruza went on a personal adventure to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on the African contingent. When she was asked if there was anything from that journey that she could take into her tennis season, the Spaniard said: “It was a very hard challenge, completely different of what I do, You’re climbing that mountain and it’s only you. You don’t get any award, any prize, any photo, any nothing up there. 

“It’s really challenging you physically and mentally to be there, and I was just looking for something fun, different experience outside from tennis. 

“Tennis, you know, we’re here the whole year, and just to get out a little bit and, yeah, do something different. I had no idea about it, because I have never done anything similar before. 

I really like the experience to see myself in the middle of nowhere and, yeah, just having one clear thought just to keep climbing.”

What they’re tweeting

Caroline Wozniacki, whose professional career came to a close Friday as she played her last match, a three-set loss to 78th-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, was filled with wit and self-awareness as expressed in this tweet she shared with her fans: “I think it’s only fitting that my career finished with a three setter, a grinder, and that my career would finish on a forehand error. Those are the things I’ve been working on my whole career.” 

Ed McGrogan, senior editor for Tennis Magazine: “I can’t go to sleep knowing that he’s in a fifth set – that’s impossible.” @CocoGauff, speaking for fellow Fed fans everywhere.

Reem Abulleil, Egyptian tennis journalist: “Marat Safin is in Rublev’s box. Thomas Johansson is in Goffin’s. 2002 Australian Open final rematch channeled through Rublev and Goffin right now on 1573 Arena.”

What they’re saying

John McEnroe, Hall of Fame player and ESPN commentator in describing Nick Kyrgios’ five-set win Saturday night over Karen Khachanov:“That was memorable.”

Serena Williams, whose quest for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title was stymied Friday by 27th seed WangQiang of China, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena: “Honestly, if we were just honest with ourselves, it’s all on my shoulders. I lost that match.”

Hall of Fame great Chrissie Evert, now an ESPN commentator, on Serena Williams, as told to Christopher Clarey of TheNew York Times: “You can never count her out because she’s Serena, but it’s increasingly getting more difficult. The women are getting better and getting more and more confident against her as time goes on. They are almost matching her power, and that is only making it harder.”

By the numbers

When No. 17 seed Andrey Rublev beat No. 11 seed David Goffin, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (4) on Saturday, the young Russian reached the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time. Rublev, who has started the 2020 season 11-0, struck 11 aces and hit 42 winners. Last year, Rublev didn’t win his 11th match until July in Hamburg.

Only 12 of the original 32 seeds remain in the women’s singles draw. There were nine seeds alone who fell in the third round on Friday and Saturday, including: No. 2 Karolina Pliskova, No. 5 Elina Svitolina, No. 6 Belinda Bencic and No. 8 Serena Williams. Among the remaining seeds are No. 22 Maria Sakarri, No. 27 Wang Qiang and No. 30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Meanwhile, in the men’s draw, there are 13 seeded players remaining in the fourth round, including eight in the upper half: No. 1 Rafael Nadal, No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, No. 5 Dominic Thiem and No. 7 Alexander Zverev.  No 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Roger Federer remain in the lower half and No. 32 Milos Raonic is the highest remaining seed.

Friday’s fifth day at the Australian Open produced a first Friday day session record with 59,600 fans at Melbourne Park. It broke the previous record of 50,093 set last year. Add the night attendance of 25,870 on hand for matches that included Coco Gauff versus Naomi Osaka and Roger Federer against John Millman in Rod Laver Arena, and there was a first Friday day/night record of 85,470. This figure shattered the previous mark of 75,198.

On Saturday, the sixth day of the fortnight, 67,126 fans flocked to Melbourne Park for the day session, which included men’s top seed Rafael Nadal and women’s reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep. The night session drew 26,583, many of them gathered inside Melbourne Arena for the Nick Kyrgios-Karen Khachanov five-set thriller. Total attendance was 93,709, which set a middle Saturday day/night record – breaking the previous record set last year with 93,178.