Ons Jabeur Represents Hope For So Many

WASHINGTON, August 27, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia represents hope. Hope for her home country. Hope for the Arab world. Hope for young girls everywhere. Win or lose.

The 25-year-old Jabeur, who turns 26 on Friday, is the face of women’s tennis in her native Tunisia, a small North Africa nation that is bordered by Algeria, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea. After cracking the Top 100 in 2017, she reached a career-best ranking of 51st last season. Jabeur has since eclipsed that mark and is currently ranked No. 39. The Top 20 is not out of her reach if she has anything to say about it. After all, Jabeur’s’ a believer in the maxim “everything is possible!”

Jabeur began this year by becoming the first Arab female to reach the quarterfinal of a major when she achieved that plateau at the Australian Open. She continued by reaching her first quarterfinal in Doha, and then continued post-COVID hiatus with a pair of quarterfinal runs, two weeks ago at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., and this week at the Western & Southern Open in New York.

Lately, Jabeur is garnering not only the worldwide attention of fans but also the media alike, thanks to her refreshing style of play that’s fun to watch and filled with plenty of tricky slice and well-timed drop shots. She’s collected four Top 20 wins along the way, against Johanna Konta, Alison Riske, Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys. The latest came on Monday evening in a dominating 6-4, 6-1 triumph over Keys in just 59 minutes.

After her third-round victory over qualifier American Christina McHale on Tuesday, Jabeur shared a virtual round table interview with a small group of journalists, including Michael Dickens of Tennis TourTalk, along with WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen; Reem Abulleil, an Egyptian tennis writer for the English-language The National, who has written extensively about Jabeur for a variety of publications; Italian tennis writer Ubaldo Scanagatta of Ubitennis.net, and Bill Simons, editor and publisher of Inside Tennis. The Tunisian presented herself in a happy and relaxed manner, and she exuded plenty of warmth in her personality.

Up front, Jabeur does not shy away from admitting she’s a dreamer. During an early-season meeting with her tight-knit team, she expressed the desire to reach the Top 20 by the end of this season. Her results – especially since returning following the five-month downtime from the WTA tour – suggests she’s ready to make her move. Don’t bet against her. Jabeur’s mindset has been different, she’s been working on both the mental and physical sides of her game, too.

“I’m playing much, much better,” Jabeur said of her back-to-back quarterfinal results achieved in Lexington and New York this month, and it’s even carried over to her practices, too. “I’ve been having more fun on the courts,” she said.

“I started to believe in myself. I know that I’m more relaxed, I’m more confident.”

Jabeur brought a 16-6 win-loss record into her quarterfinal against former Western & Southern Open champion Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday afternoon. A win against the former World No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion in their first head-to-head would have put Jabeur into the biggest semifinal of her career, and first since Tianjin last October. However, it wasn’t meant to be this time as the 59th-ranked Azarenka prevailed 7-6 (9), 6-2 in one hour and 44 minutes. Afterward, Azarenka praised Jabeur during her virtual press conference.

Afterward, Azarenka praised Jabeur during her virtual press conference. “She’s very, very talented. I have obviously seen her play, but standing on the other side was different. So, I definitely admire her talent,” she said. “She pushed me during the tie-break. I had to bring my best today.”

Jabeur said it was to her benefit being able to play the Western & Southern Open and the US Open back-to-back on the same courts. “I’m used to the courts, used to the bounce. It helps a lot, especially, when you don’t have to change the courts. 

“Now, I’m moving well on the court. I know my level and I feel like I have certain goals and I want to achieve them.”

Among Jabeur’s goals is being the best ambassador and representative of Tunisia she can. She’s represented her country in the past two Summer Olympic Games (2012, 2016) and she’s also fluent in three languages – Arab, French and English. Her outgoing personality enables her to easily connect with different audiences.

“I know I am representing Tunisia, the Arab world, the African world. It’s huge. I want to show that nothing is impossible for myself and for everyone else,” Jabeur said. “Having an amazing team behind me – even when I’m feeling low sometimes – is always trying to help me and push me. I’m really glad they are here.” 

Her team includes her husband Karim Kamoun, a Russian-Tunisian former fencer who also acts as her fitness trainer, and she’s coached by Issam Jellali.

Jabeur understands it’s her responsibility to present a good example because she’s in the public eye. “On the court, I try to have the best behavior,” she said. “I know a lot of teens are watching me. They want to be like me one day. They want to know how I did it. For me, to be able to get some matches and go as hard as I can, it’s a good example and a great message to send them. I’m trying my best and hope honestly one day to be able to share my experience with them.” 

Asked if she gets feedback from kids who want to do well and have been inspired by here, Jabeur said, “I do, I do. When I’m back home in Tunisia, sometimes I see kids and they are always curious and ask me questions. For example, ‘how do I manage the stress before a match?’ I’m trying to give them motivation speeches. Actually, I use them sometimes for me.

“I believe in myself and (know) if you put something in your head, you’ll achieve it. I’m taking things from my experience and trying to share it with them. I hope they can be here one day.”

Our 17-minute interview has come and gone quickly. However, Jabeur leaves her guests at the virtual media round table with this positive thought: “I’m going to tell the whole universe I want to be Top 20 and I know if you say that everything is going to be possible, it is.”

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