In the harsh light of defeat Ons Jabeur’s close friend and the woman she had just beaten, Tatjana Maria, spoke of their friendship. The two have interesting stories set to a backdrop of humility and kindred spirit, Jabeur an African woman and one of the new dominating forces in tennis, and Maria a mother of two young children playing on the professional tennis circuit.
The German mother’s tournament run since May has been Florida, Germany, England, Italy, Germany, England and Washington next. She was beaten 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 by Tunisian Jabeur, who becomes the first Arab player to contest a Grand Slam final.
After the other semi-final played out, Jabeur will meet the first Kazak player male or female to make it to a Grand Slam final. Elena Rybakina overpowered Romanian 2019 winner Simona Halep 6-3, 6-3. Jabeur against Rybakina for the Wimbledon title. People will need to get used to those names.
“I think Ons, she’s an amazing role model already where she’s coming from, how she plays, how she is outside of the court,” said Maria. “It doesn’t matter if she’s number two in the world, I mean, she never changed. That’s impressive because that also makes her, yeah, an amazing person. I hope she can go to the end.”
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Jabeur was able to use her creative and varied game to out-smart and out-point her friend in a stylistic throwback type of match. Normalised to players hitting hard from the baselines, Jabeur and Maria indulged the crowd in the whole spectrum of shots, Maria hitting heavily sliced shots off her forehand and backhand sides.
But it was Jabeur, who is more naturally the touch player and her ranking of two in the world to Maria’s 103 showed despite a lapse from Jabeur in the second set followed by a totally dominant third, which continued along the theme of spin, slice and angles.
Jabeur broke serve twice in the third set as insurance to stifle any threat of another Maria comeback. While it was far from the perfect match for the number three seed, the flashes and potential to play a coloured version of the game suggests enough to diffuse the power of Rybakina for a first grand slam title.
“Well, it’s always about Tunisia somehow,” said Jabeur afterwards. “I want to go bigger, inspire many more generations. Tunisia is connected to the Arab world, is connected to the African continent. We want to see more players. It’s not like Europe or any other countries. I want to see more players from my country, from the Middle East, from Africa.”
Rybakina used her long levers and broad shoulders to rip into Halep and run her hard. Halep, the 2019 winner, who had not dropped a set at Wimbledon since the second round that year after covid and an injury kept her away last year, could not match the heavy baseline game, especially off the Kazak’s backhand.
Rybakina, born, raised and resident in Moscow before switching to Kazakhstan in 2018 simultaneously thwarted Halep and the All England Club. Their decision after discussions with the British government was not to have a Russian or Belarussian in the draw after the invasion of Ukraine.
Not able to settle
Halep was never allowed to settle and soon struggled with her second serve. A double fault gave Rybakina break point in the first game and she repaid Halep with a massive forehand winner. Halep slapped her thigh as she went 4-1 down with a deteriorating serve, hitting three double faults as she was broken in the first game of the second set.
What do you think you could have done better? Halep was asked after the match.
“To serve,” she said. “To serve a little bit better. I improved a lot in my serve the last three months. But today I feel like I went back to my normal one. Many double faults and too soft. Definitely, if I would have had a better serve today, would have been better.
“Her level was very high today. She played really well. She was very solid, consistent. Yeah, didn’t drop the level. But I didn’t do much. Somehow, I think I gave her the perfect ball to do her game, to feel comfortable on court.”
Although Halep broke back for 2-2, she quickly surrendered the break back after two more double faults. It was another Romanian double fault that gave Rybakina a first match point and the Kazak needed no second invitation, crushing a backhand return for the winner.
Organisers can now celebrate that they will have two different players in the women’s final on Saturday. In boxing there is a saying that styles make fights. So to in tennis with Jabeur’s slice and feel against the raw backcourt power and serving of Rybakina.