Under the Patronage of H.h. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai

February 18- March 2, 2024
Dubai Duty Free tennis stadium
February 18- March 2, 2024
Dubai Duty Free tennis stadium
February 16, 2024

Ons Jabeur: The star of Africa shines in Dubai

Ons Jabeur

The charismatic and talented Tunisian has legions of fans across the African continent and the wider Arab world

by Barry Wood

It was way back in 2012 when a little-known player from Tunisia was given a wildcard entry into the qualifying rounds of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. She was ranked 1169 in the world and was drawn against the top seed, Zheng Jie, who she promptly dispatched in straight sets before falling to Arantxa Rus, 7-5. in the third in the next round. Note the score. This was a player who does not lose without a fight.

The player was Ons Jabeur, and because that fighting spirit has never waned for a moment, because of her determination to show that someone from a nation not known for its tennis prowess could succeed, she has not only climbed to the very top of the game but become an icon, an inspiration, a beacon of hope, for countless other women not only in Tunisia, not only in the Arab world, but throughout the African continent. She’s even known as the Minister of Happiness in her proud nation.

WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship 2022, Ons Jabeur (TUN) in action against Simona Halep (ROU), 17th February 2022, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“I cannot tell you the amount of messages that I receive either on social media or outside,” she said. “When I go to any country, there is always Arab women or men that are supporting me. That means a lot to me and always pushes me to do better. Definitely I want to make the Arab world, the African world, proud of me. I’ve been learning how to handle the expectations from them.”

She had shown promise at an early age by reaching the junior Grand Slam final at the French Open in 2010 and then again in 2011 when she claimed the title to become the first Arab player to win a junior Grand Slam singles title since Ismail El Shafei won the Wimbledon boys’ title in 1964. She eventually made the challenging transition from juniors to the main tour, and following an appearance in her first major tournament final in Moscow in 2018, her progress was recognized when she received the Arab Women of the Year in Sports Award in 2019.

Read More: Five reasons to attend the 2024 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

But it was in 2020 that her career really began to take off. At the Australian Open that year she became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament by beating former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in what was to be the final match of her career.

That was a significant achievement, but actually it was just a step towards what was on the horizon. 2021 saw her win in Birmingham—and reach the doubles final—as well as the Charleston and Chicago finals, the semifinals of Indian Wells, and even beat Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza, and Iga Swiatek to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Excellent, but even better was to come.

Beginning 2022 ranked 10th in the world, her sensational season saw her not only climb to world No. 2 but reach the final of two successive Grand Slams at Wimbledon and the US Open, and she also won titles in Madrid and Berlin; as well as finish as runner-up in Charleston and Rome.

For me it’s really amazing to see how so many kids want to watch me. I appreciate that so much.”

Her appearance in the final of Wimbledon, not surprisingly, had a massive impact back home and elevated her to the role of superstar. It is something she welcomed and has taken in her stride, saying: “It’s very good to have people supporting you and telling you they’re going to buy tickets and come watch you. [And] for me it’s really amazing to see so many kids who want to watch me. I appreciate that so much.”

Despite achieving what most would have thought impossible, despite being someone that so many respect and look up to, despite carrying the hopes and dreams of a nation, a continent, Ons has kept her feet firmly on the ground and she is determined it will stay that way. Sure, she stays in fancy hotels, has limousines ready to whisk her to and from the courts, has doors opened to her that are closed to many, but none of it goes to her head.

“I don’t like to get into luxury too much because sometimes it can make you forget where you come from,” she said. “It’s very important for me to stay the same person no matter how much success I am experiencing. It’s very natural for me to be that way.”

That humble attitude extends to being on great terms with her fellow competitors, something that for obvious reasons isn’t common within the game. And it is the reason she has twice been honored by her peers with the WTA’s Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award.

“I always try to tell other players, ‘If you need help I’m here’,” she told The Guardian. “Some players find it strange. Why is she doing that? But it comes from a pure heart. It’s just a tennis tournament, it’s not life-threatening. Off the court you don’t need to be tough. On court I’m completely different. I’m going to fight until the end of the match to win, but when I shake your hand it’s over and we move on to something else.”

The highlight of her 2023 season was clearly reaching her second straight Wimbledon final, but defeat in what was her third appearance in a Grand Slam final was, she said, the most painful of her career. And it wasn’t just losing a match in which she was the clear favorite against Marketa Vondrousova that was so devastating for her.

She later revealed in a documentary on her career that, if she had won, she and her husband, Karim, had planned to try and start a family. With her dream of lifting a Grand Slam trophy put on hold for now, so is having a baby. The positive for us, if not for her, is that we can continue to watch a legend on the court. The positive for her is that she can still continue to bid for that elusive Grand Slam trophy, which will climax her fantastic career.

This feature was initially published in the 2024 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Official Program.

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