Ons Jabeur into last 16 and hoping to be first African to win Wimbledon

The Tunisian player beat Diane Parry 6-2, 6-3 to secure her passage

Ons Jabeur may not have raised many eyes in the first match on Centre Court on Friday. Her Arabic first name means “removal of fear” and “to provide a comforting presence for another.” But the latter didn’t apply in her third-round match against Diane Parry.

In this part of Europe, the 27-year-old is relatively unknown and has quietly made her way up the rankings over the last three years to become the second ranked player in the world. But Jabeur, who beat the 19-year-old French debutant 6-2, 6-3 to secure her passage into the last 16 holds the hopes and aspirations of hundreds of millions across the African and Arab world.

Last October, she became the first Arab player, man or woman, to be ranked in the world’s top 10, she was the first Arab woman to reach a grand slam quarter-final at the Australian Open in 2020 and last year also became the first to reach the last eight at Wimbledon.

Countries comprising the Middle East and North Africa account for more than 420 million people, yet they have only produced five top-100 tennis players, including Jabeur, in the sport’s history. The only other Arab woman to approach reaching a similar level was, like Jabeur, a Tunisian.

The win over Parry in 68 minutes was the longest Jabeur has had spent on court at the All England Club. She has played for just over three hours over three matches. Once again with Parry, it was full of drop shots and slices and a little bit of the typical wizardly by the player Tunisians call The Minister of Happiness.

“It wasn’t easy back home for some situations,” said Jabeur. “But they think when they watch my matches, I bring happiness. That’s why they call me that.”

Her varied style gave the game a refreshing feel, a little bit of a throwback in there not being two back court players slogging it out from behind the baseline. But throughout it seemed Jabeur has not had to move up from second gear after a week of competition.

“Honestly it’s tricky,” she said. “Those few rounds is always tricky. I want to play my best tennis. Obviously if you’re too comfortable, it’s not that good as well. I’ll have even more difficult match for the next one.”

Still the outcome was in little doubt as Jabeur broke the teenager three times in the first set. Parry managed to fend off the dreaded bagel but Jabeur served out the set 6-2 with a 108mph ace down the middle on the final point.

While Parry was more effective and had collected herself in the second set, again Jabeur was mixing her game well, continuously unsettling her opponent with variation. A drill down the line would be followed by a feathered backhand as Parry was moved around the court.

A perfectly weighted drop shot after tearing up to the net sealed a key service hold for Jabeur and another contributed towards a second break and a final service game to love for the win.

Afterwards Jabeur was asked what winning next week would mean as no African woman has ever won Wimbledon.

“It would mean a lot for me, for my family, for my country,” she said. ”Everybody is following me, expecting me to do better and better. I hope I continue being that person that gives them what they’re expecting for. I’m just trying my best to break records, to really open the path for the next generation.”

Her eyes are on winning the title. An unknown player here, millions will be watching next week for the possibility of an Arab summer.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times