Ons Jabeur ignites tennis’ Arab Spring

Written by Gaurav Bhatt

October 7, 2020 1:05:25 am

Ons Jabeur misplaced to Danielle Collins 4-6, 6-4, 4-6 at French Open. (Twitter/Ons_Jabeur)

The tears rolling down her cheeks caught the often stoic Selima Sfar without warning. It was in the course of the first-round conflict between Egyptian Mayar Sherif and Karolina Pliskova on the French Open when the realisation sunk in and left Sfar, former Tunisia No 1, leaping out of the commentary chair.

“I was overwhelmed when I saw Mayar and realised that two of our Arab women are in the Grand Slam,” Sfar tells The Indian Express. “Once, nobody believed it. And this happened fast enough.”

Sherif, who blasted by way of three qualifiers and drew reward from her well-known compatriot Mohamed Salah, misplaced that first-round match to the second-seed Pliskova. The different girl from the North African area fared a lot better.

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur — the primary Arab girl to achieve the pre-quarterfinals at Roland Garros — misplaced to American Danielle Collins 4-6, 6-4, 4-6 on Tuesday. She fell one step in need of replicating the run on the Australian Open in January when she turned the primary Arab girl to achieve a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

The 26-year-old’s historic yr of firsts although will proceed subsequent week when she cracks the highest 30.

Before Jabeur, the 423-million sturdy Arab world had accounted for 5 top-100 gamers; the one girl being Sfar. The 43-year-old former world No. 75 was the primary Arab girl to achieve the second spherical at a Major (twice at Roland Garros, thrice at Wimbledon and as soon as on the US Open).


“This year is the first time we saw two women in the main draw of a Grand Slam, 15-20 years after I was the first to do that. And how lonely I was. Totally alone not just from Tunisia, but from the Arab world,” says Sfar.

“You have no idea how important this is. Not only for women but men also. She has so many male supporters, and these fathers, these brothers, they see and realise their daughters can do the same.”

And it’s laborious to not watch Jabeur’s sport and develop into a supporter. She possesses all the trimmings of the trendy sport: big inside-out, cross-court forehands, leaping backhands, passing winners on the stretch. But Jabeur stands out for her trickery. The slices, the volleys, tweener lobs and, after all, her speciality, the drop pictures.

“As long as the drop shot is working, then I’m on the safe side. I know it really bothers some players,” Jabeur instructed sportswriter Simon Cambers, who wrote this week that “Jurgen Melzer, used to be called the drop shot king, but his mantle may have passed to Ons Jabeur.”

The misleading wind-up, implausible fingers, footwork and flawless execution imply the drop shot is each defensive and aggressive. On Tuesday, towards the wind and an aggressive Collins, Jabeur couldn’t get the job carried out however her opponent applauded after being often bested by the drop shot and admitted that “it affected my rhythm, she plays the shot when you can’t expect it.”

Of course, the drop shot isn’t the one facet of her sport that has been efficient.

“Her overall game has improved because of the pre-season when we worked a lot on fitness. Her physical condition is much, much better and she has also lost some weight,” says Jabeur’s former coach Bertrand Perret, who orchestrated the historic run in Melbourne. “I always wanted her to be very aggressive with the forehand. You see how many winners she has now?”

On common, 38 per match in Paris.

Sfar provides: “On the physical side, her husband (Tunisian-Russian fencer Karim Kamoun) who is also her trainer has helped a lot. The backhand has improved dramatically. And I’ve seen a huge change not just in training and physicality-wise, but mentally as well. She’s wiser now, she has belief in herself.”

That perception shone by way of on Tuesday. After being outplayed within the first set and down 3-Zero within the second, Jabeur shifted the momentum however couldn’t shut out the match. Pity, as a result of there couldn’t have been a greater place to enhance on her finest Major marketing campaign.

“The condition in Paris was also great for her because the bounce has been lower. She likes the drop shots, backhand slice to change the rhythm. In this weather, the players don’t run so well on the clay to get to those shots,” says Perret.

Getting this far is an achievement in itself for Jabeur. Her success on the large stage was at all times within the offing. She made it to the ultimate of the Junior French Open in 2010 and 2011, successful it on the second event to develop into the primary Arab participant to win a junior Slam since 1964. By 2017, she turned the primary Arab girl to achieve third-round at Major, a run that propelled her into the highest 100.

Since then, she has overtaken Sfar’s finest rating, reaching her career-high of 31 in August. But like Sfar, she left Tunisia to coach in France, one other similarity between the 2 trailblazers.

“At 13-year-old, I went to the other side of the continent, practising six-seven hours daily and then being alone. No WhatsApp, no FaceTime, no Skype, there was barely a mobile phone,” Sfar remembers her journey.

“There was no Schengen visa (a short-stay visa that allows travel to several European countries) so you queued up for a week and still wouldn’t get it. That cost me tournaments, practice. Oh God!” she laughs.

Things might have been simpler for Sfar had she taken up the chance to symbolize France. But her household’s historical past with Tunisia – her grandfather based the nation’s first Arabic newspaper, was jailed by French authorities, and later virtually turned Tunisia’s first President after independence in 1956 – rendered the choice void.

“I knew that not taking the French passport will make things really difficult for me. But I chose to go that way to open the door,” she says.

That satisfaction and sense of identification run sturdy in Jabeur too. The present world no 35 – a eager soccer fan – usually oscillates between Real Madrid and Juventus when taking part in FIFA on a PlayStation, however Perret notes that in the actual world, no staff trumps the Tunisian nationwide facet.

“Things that she’s always crazy about, playing FIFA on PlayStation. But her favourite team is only Tunisia. She likes to play football, watch football. She could have easily been a footballer for her country too,” says Perret.

Her satisfaction in her nationality although hasn’t gone unnoticed.

After a hard-fought win, in entrance of Tunisian supporters, over Pliskova on the Qatar Open in February, Jabeur mentioned, “It was kind of tough sometimes because they didn’t know the rules of tennis! They thought it was a football match, but it was amazing, seeing all the Tunisians who made the effort to come and see me with all the Tunisian flags… seeing that I had this impact on people following more tennis makes me proud.”

Sfar highlights the altering occasions.

“Things were a lot more taboo back then. Tennis wasn’t a popular sport in Tunisia. Today, when we are doing a speech in the Middle East, playing a game in Dubai, people come and join,” she says.

“Even now, people come to my sports club and the academy because it has my name. It was a seed planted back then and Ons has been the result. Now she’s planting many seeds and many more will come afterwards.”

Sfar agrees that there’s extra to Jabeur that has made her a nationwide hero.

“We have become very good friends over the past two years. Practised a lot together. I say she’s my little sister because she’s much younger, but there are times when she has made me feel secure around her. There is something about Ons that most people love her,” says Sfar. “Often people obsess ‘why does this person not like me?’ With Ons, it is the opposite because she will do something without you asking her. She’s got so much empathy that she anticipates and makes people feel secure around her.”


On Tuesday, one other teary-eyed commentary session later, Sfar says: “It gets stressful sometimes. I keep reminding myself that it’s only a tennis match. But at the same time, it is a message. There’s something very important behind it.”

In 2017, lengthy earlier than her meteoric rise, Jabeur had mentioned: “When I win, I represent the Arab world. When I lose, I try to be just Ons Jabeur.”

But regardless of her exit from the French Open, she has already put Tunisia, and the Arab world, on the tennis map.

“Whether she wins or loses, we are all proud of her. That’s one sentence that I dream someone would have told me when I used to play. Ons now has to play and enjoy. She’s already a pride of Tunisia and commands huge respect. And she has nothing to prove.”

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