Jabeur Spreading Joy, Drawing Plenty of Attention At Roland Garros

Ons Jabeur (Roland Garros video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, May 22, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

As the French Open begins anew at Stade Roland Garros in Paris Sunday, there’s plenty of star power to be found up and down both the men’s and women’s 128-player singles draws.

How the second major of 2022 – and the climatic fortnight of the European spring clay season – turns out, come back in two weeks to find out. In the meantime, however, it’s time to enjoy the journey.

After the singles draw were unveiled Thursday night at Musee l’Orangerie, a few storylines popped out immediately. Among them, there’s the Novak DjokovicRafael NadalCarlos Alcaraz trio all being placed in the upper half of the men’s draw, meaning that only one of the three can advance to the final. Also, there’s the rise of women’s No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who ascended to the top of the WTA Rankings after former No. 1 Ashleigh Barty‘s sudden retirement, and has won every tournament she’s played in since February.

Look further and you’ll find there’s one player drawing nothing but positive attention: Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur. The 27-year-old, a native of Ksar El Hellar (about 194 kilometers from Tunisia’s capital city of Tunis), has steadily risen in the rankings. She’s been one of the hottest players on clay this season, reaching finals in Charleston, S.C. and Rome, and winning a WTA 1000 title in Madrid. Jabeur leads the WTA Tour in clay-court wins this year with 17.

On Saturday, when the Opening Day’s order of play was published, the jovial Jabeur was given the Day 1 debut match on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the largest show court at Stade Roland Garros. Sunday morning at 11 a.m., the World No. 6 and sixth seed Jabeur will play No. 56 Magda Linette of Poland, whom she has played four times previously and won three of those head-to-head confrontations.

When Jabeur sat for her pre-tournament press conference on Friday, she spoke to the media in a trio of languages – English, French and Arabic. She’s comfortable talking in each of them. “It’s nice to be here,” she said in fluent English. “I love playing in Paris. I love playing on this kind of clay. Hopefully continuing with the great results.

“My main goal is to be here in the second week, for sure. I will be happy if I make it to the semifinals. … I’m expecting to go further really and enjoy my time here.”

A French Open junior champion in 2011, Jabeur has garnered consecutive round of 16 finishes the past two years. Her rise in the WTA Rankings from a year-end No. 76 in 2019 to No. 10 at the end of 2021 have been recognized by many, and now she’s enjoying a career-best No. 6.

“Well, I’m the same person, so I try to not feel different,” Jabeur admits. “But, yeah, I’ve felt the attention and people like really congratulate me. … I’m really loving it. Just always really special for here to coming in Roland Garros. I try t really not to see things differently, but really feels amazing.”

Jabeur is situated in a very challenging third quarter of the women’s draw (in the lower half) that also includes No. 4 seed Maria Sakkari and No. 10 seed Garbiñe Muguruza. There are also five past major champions – Naomi Osaka, Strasbourg champion Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Bianca Andreescu and Emma Raducanu.

Can Jabeur, Tunisia’s and the African continent’s finest player, put together a championship fortnight and continue to blaze a trail unlike an Arab player before her? Anything’s possible. After all, she’s a believer that everything will come in time. Coached by Issam Jellali and trained by her husband Karim Kamoun, Jabeur is also working with French psychologist Melanie Maillard – and, together, it’s paying dividends.

Among Jabeur’s goals: “I always said it from the beginning of the season that I want to be Top 5; I want to win more titles; and I want to win a Grand Slam,” she said.

“I don’t want to put the bad pressure on myself that I have to do it this year, otherwise it’s going to be never. But I always believe that I can win a Grand Slam, and I feel like this season could be the right one, hopefully. I’m putting it out there, you know, just in case.”

Around the French Open

Opening Sunday at Roland Garros includes 40 total singles match spread among the three biggest show courts (Philippe-Chatrier, Suzanne-Lenglen and Simonne-Mathieu as well as Courts 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 14.).

Among the notable seeded players in action are: Men’s No. 3 Alexander Zverev of Germany, No. 6 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and No. 15 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina. Also, there’s Women’s No. 4 Maria Sakkari of Greece, No. 6 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, No. 10 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain No. 18 Coco Gauff of the United States.

Sunday’s French Open order of play

By the numbers

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia leads the WTA in several statistical categories this season. Among them are: winners (852), forehand winners (486), backhand winners (260), successful drop shots (103). Jabeur also comes into this year’s French Open having won 11 of her last 12 matches.

“Quotable …”

“She’s having great momentum. She’s not there by chance. You know, she’s worked really hard to achieve that kind of level. …I think everybody has to focus on their self and believe they can beat great players.”

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, during her pre-tournament press conference, speaking about World No. 1 Iga Swiatek.