Wimbledon: Jabeur Makes History By Reaching First Major Final

Tatjana Maria and Ons Jabeur (photo: Porsche Tennis Talent Team)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, July 7, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Win or lose, Ons Jabeur has exuded a sense of happiness throughout the Wimbledon Championships, and with it has come success. Now, she’s made tennis history, too.

After the World No. 2 and third seed achieved the biggest success of her career Thursday afternoon on Centre Court, in which she became the first Tunisian, the first Arab and the first African woman in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam final, Jabeur wanted to make sure that she could celebrate the feat with her close friend, 103rd-ranked Tatjana Maria, whom she had just beaten in the first women’s semifinal.

Jabeur triumphed over Maria, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, with a brilliant performance on a sun-splashed day that captivated fans who came out in support at the All England Club.It was her 22nd win in her last 24 matches.

In the second semifinal, No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina ended the fine run of 2019 Wimbledon champion and this year’s 16th seed Simona Halep, 6-3, 6-3, in 76 minutes. On Saturday afternoon, Jabeur and Rybakina, both first-time major finalists, will play for the Venus Rosewater Dish. Jabeur leads the career head-to-head with Rybakina 2-1.

A native of Ksar Hellal, about 113 miles southeast of Tunisia’s capital city of Tunis, Jabeur put her personal touch on the first semifinal festivities with Maria, the 34-year-old German mother of two young girls, whom Jabeur has become “barbecue buddies” with and is known as “Aunty Ons” by Maria’s children.

First, Jabeur and Maria met at the net and shared an extended hug at the conclusion of their spirited match. Then, she wanted to make sure that the Centre Court audience gave Maria a proper applause and send off, which tells you everything you need to know about the 27-year-old Tunisian. Instead of returning to the center of the court alone wave to the crowd after she set down her racquet on the sideline, as is customary, Jabeur playfully grabbed Maria and brought her out for a curtain call.

For all that Jabeur has achieved in the past two weeks, Maria has also blazed a trail during the British fortnight. It included Maria reaching a career-best first major semifinal since coming back from her second maternity leave after giving birth to her second daughter, Cecilia, 15 months ago. Also, she became the oldest first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the Open Era and the first mother of two to make the last four of a major since Margaret Court at Wimbledon in 1975. Maria is also only the fourth player ranked outside the Top 100 to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.

“I definitely wanted to share the moment with her at the net,” Jabeur said in her on-court interview. “She is such an inspiration for so many players, including me, coming back after two babies. I still don’t know how she did it.”

“That was her moment,” Maria said. “She has just reached the final of Wimbledon. The fact that she wanted to share this happiness with me shows what a great person she is.”

From the outset, the two friends did their best to disrupt the rhythm of the other. There was plenty of variety in their shots – each sliced off both their forehands and backhands – and both Jabeur and Maria weren’t afraid to change the spin and pace of what they were hitting over the net. Anything to get an advantage.

There were plenty of points played at the net – and it was one statistic that Maria achieved well, winning 29 of 52 exchanges (56 percent). However, Jabeur did just a little bit better, garnering 28 of 38 points (74 percent).

Looking back, the Jabeur-Maria semifinal match was fun to watch – there was plenty of resilience and tenacity shown by both competitors – and it was poetic that it went the distance, an hour and 43 minutes, so that the crowd could enjoy this match to its fullest. Jabeur wrapped up the historic victory on her second match-point opportunity after hitting a service winner.

“I knew, of course, that it was going to be a tough match,” Maria said. “She also plays a good slice and great stop balls. We’re going pretty much in the same direction. Especially in the third set, she hardly made any mistakes and played the match confidently to the end. Now, I hope she wins the final as well.”

Jabeur hit 39 winners to 30 unforced errors – making only three unforced errors in the final set – while Maria finished with 17 winners and made 27 unforced errors. Jabeur converted four of 11 break-point opportunities and outpointed her opponent 95-78. She came on strong in the final set to put her mark on the victory and showed for all what a truly fine role model she is for women’s tennis throughout not only the Arab-Africa world but also the world at large.

“It is a dream coming true from years and years of work and sacrifice,” said Jabeur, who has come back nicely from an opening-round loss at the French Open in May to win 11 consecutive matches, all on grass courts. She arrived at Wimbledon after winning a grass-court title last month in Berlin. “I am really happy it is paying off and I continue for one more match now.

“I am a proud Tunisian woman standing here today. I try to inspire as much as I can. It is not just Tunisia. I want to see more and more Arab-African players on the tour. I just love the game.”

Later, during her press conference, Jabeur added: “I want to go bigger, inspire many more generations. Tunisia is connected to the Arab world, is connected to the African continent. … I want to see more players from my country, from the Middle East, from Africa. We didn’t believe enough, at a certain point that we can do it. Now, I’m just try to show [we can]. Hopefully, people are getting inspired.”

Rybakina powers past Halep, becomes first-time major finalist

Elena Rybakina, a 23-year-old from Kazakhstan, simply overwhelmed Simona Halep, who was trying to build upon her 2019 Wimbledon title achievement. However, from the outset, it was the poised Rybakina, the WTA Tour leader in service aces with 219, who proved to be too powerful for the No. 16 seed from Romania.

“I already did a lot,” the 17th-seeded Rybakina said after beating Halep, 6-3, 6-3, “and it’s just time to enjoy and really have fun on the court.”

Rybakina put away the victory on her first match point with a backhand return winner.

By winning, the World No. 23 Rybakina became the first player from Kazakhstan – woman or man – to reach a major final and the youngest Wimbledon finalist since Garbiñe Muguruza in 2015. It was Halep’s first Wimbledon loss since 2018.

Rybakina, who had never advanced beyond a major quarterfinal until Thursday, hit five aces and struck 22 winners to just 16 unforced errors. She broke Halep four times in nine opportunities and outpointed her opponent 63-52. Halep countered with 16 winners and made 15 unforced errors.

Halep had won 12 straight matches at Wimbledon, a streak which she began during her title run three years ago. She didn’t get to properly defend her title because Wimbledon was cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, Halep was unable to compete last year after tearing her left calf muscle. Coming in to Thursday’s semifinal, the World No. 18 from Romania had compiled five consecutive straight-set wins this fortnight, including wins over No. 4 seed Paula Badosa and No. 20 seed Amanda Anisimova, and had a streak of 21 unbroken sets.

“I’m really happy with my performance as I played a solid match,” Rybakina said. “Usually, I have mental ups and downs but today I was mentally prepared, and it was a great match.”

Nadal withdraws from Wimbledon with abdominal injury

Two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal withdrew from The Championships with an abdominal injury. He made the announcement at a Thursday evening press conference at the All England Club.

The World No. 4 and this year’s No. 2 seed, who began the year by winning the Australian Open and French Open crowns, was scheduled to play unseeded World No. 40 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in the second men’s singles semifinal match on Centre Court Friday. Instead, the mercurial Aussie will receive a walkover into Sunday’s title match.

Kyrgios will face the winner of the other semifinal between top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia and British No. 9 seed Cameron Norrie, who play Friday afternoon on Centre Court.

Nadal, who struggled with an abdominal injury during his 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4) quarterfinal victory over No. 11 seed Taylor Fritz on Wednesday evening, said afterward that the problem surfaced earlier during the British fortnight. His father and sister urged him to retire early during the Fritz match but Nadal soldiered on to victory after four hours, 21 minutes after taking a medical time out in the second set to take inflammatory medications.

“I have been suffering with pain in the abdominal … there is a tear in the muscle,” Nadal said during his press conference. “I made the decision because I don’t believe I can win two matches under these circumstances.”

Thursday’s Wimbledon results 

Friday’s Wimbledon order of play

Krawcyck and Skupski repeat as mixed doubles champions

Desirae Krawczyk of the United States and Great Britain’s Neal Skupski successfully defended their Wimbledon mixed doubles title Thursday evening. The No. 2 seeds won the first Wimbledon crown of the fortnight by defeating unseeded Australians Samantha Stosur and Matthew Ebden, 6-4, 6-3, in an hour and 27 minutes on Centre Court.

“Two in a row baby, at Wimbledon!” Krawczyk exclaimed to Skupski during the trophy ceremony.

Added Skupski: “I got a last-minute call from Des to play,” he said, explaining they weren’t planning to defend their 2021 title this year. “We weren’t meant to play, so we’ve only been a team for two weeks. We’ll have to go for three next year, if she plays with me.”

It was the fourth mixed doubles title for Krawczyk, who previous won Wimbledon 2021 with Skupski, Roland-Garros 2021 with Joe Salisbury of Great Britain and the 2021 US Open, also with Salisbury.

Krawcyck and Skupski also became the first team to win back-to-back Wimbledon titles since Czech’s Helena Sukova and Cyril Suk won in 1996 and 1997. Krawczyk also became the first American woman to repeat as mixed doubles champion at Wimbledon since Billie Jean King in 1973 and 1974.

On Friday, Krawczyk will team with fellow American Danielle Collins in the women’s doubles semifinals. The U.S. team will face top seeds Elise Mertens of Belgium and Zhang Shuai of China. The other semifinal features No. 2 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both of the Czech Republic, against No. 4 seeds Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine and Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko.

Defending champions Mektic and Pavic survive 5-set semifinal

Defending Wimbledon men’s doubles champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, advanced to the final with a five-set victory over No. 6 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Colombia, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) in four hours and 23 minutes on No. 1 Court Thursday evening.

The No. 2 seeds Mektic and Pavic will play No. 14 seeds Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell, both from Australia, who fought off five match points against top-seeded Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain during a third-set tie-break, then went on to win 3-6, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (9), 6-4, 6-2 on No. 1 Court. The semifinal lasted three hours and 59 minutes. Ebden and Purcell are through to their second major final of the season.

By the numbers

Before Ons Jabeur, the only Tunisian player to reach the WTA Top 100 was Selima Sfar, who rose to No. 75 in July of 2001. Jabeur became the first player from her country to reach a WTA final, at Moscow in 2018. She’s gone on from there. Jabeur was the first to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2020 Australian Open. A month later, she became the first to crack the Top 50. Last year, she became the first to win a WTA title, at Birmingham, England. It helped pave the way to Jabeur making her Top 10 debut last October.

“Quotable …”

“I mean, it’s Nadal. How can you question anybody wanting to cheer for him? … I really, really wanted this match. … I never felt like I could cry after a loss. … Honestly, probably hurts more than any loss I’ve ever had.”

– No. 11 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States, after losing to two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal, 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), Wednesday evening.