It’s only the first day of action at the Credit One Charleston Open, but Ons Jabeur is already in end-of-the tournament form, laughing and leaving smiles in her frothy wake.
Back home in Tunisia, she’s known as Wazeerat Al Sa’ada. That translates to Minister of Happiness.
“Yes, that’s what they call me everywhere I go,” Jabeur said. “The first thing they say is, `You know, I wake up at 3 a.m. to watch your matches.’ Everybody’s also blaming me for waking up so early.
“Seriously, though, it’s great to see the support from the whole country.”
A decade after she won the junior title at Roland Garros as a 16-year-old, Jabeur finally cracked the Hologic WTA Tour Top 10 last fall. She was the first Arab woman to manage that feat. In Tunisia, a small country at the northern tip of Africa, that’s a big deal.
The mind reels with headline possibilities:
Bring it, Ons!
The Wizard of Ons
ONS-ward and upward
“There is always a first time, I say,” Jabeur said, laughing of course. “I am glad that I am the first one to do it. Me, doing this, I try to inspire another generation with this, with great pleasure.
“I always try to work even harder because now the work is even tougher than before. The hardest thing is to maintain this great level, and hopefully I can do it.”
This is the looming challenge as Jabeur, who currently sits at No.10 in the rankings, attempts to follow up on her breakthrough 2021 season. It was right here in Charleston that she advanced to the final a year ago, setting up nice results at Roland Garros (Round of 16) and Wimbledon (quarterfinals), a career-first title on the grass in Eastbourne and a strong semifinal finish at Indian Wells.
So far, the sequel hasn’t quite lived up to the original run. Her last match in 2021 was incomplete; she retired with an elbow injury in Moscow after losing seven of eight games to Ekaterina Alexandrova. Jabeur took a few weeks off, vacationing in Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, with her husband Karim.
Off-season training consisted of a lot of work on her serve, conditioning and some tactical adjustments she thinks will be helpful.
“There are a few moments during the match that are, let’s say, in one second you can win the match or lose the match,” Jabeur said. “Those seconds I’m trying to focus more on being more patient during my match. Those matches that I lost and were very close – I don’t have to lose them again.”
In mid-December, she flew to Abu Dhabi for an exhibition match with Belinda Bencic. The good news? She picked up a nice chunk of change for winning. The bad? She also picked up a case of COVID-19.
“I had to rest for a bit, and then I tried to go to the Australian Open but I wasn’t 100 percent ready,” Jabeur said. “Then I injured my back and did rehab.”
Jabeur sought sanctuary in her home away from home, the Tennis Club de Monastir. It’s essentially a hotel with tennis courts. Jabeur’s days consisted of training, eating and then training again. With all the excitement over her success, Jabeur said, she could focus solely on tennis.
She was nothing if not consistent, reaching the quarterfinals for the second and third time this year in Dubai and Doha (after Sydney). Indian Wells saw her fall to qualifier Daria Saville in her first match. In Miami she lost in the Round of 16 to Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins.
Growing up, her idol was Andy Roddick. Jabeur admired his serve, of course, but also his sense of humor. He calls her the most-hugged woman in tennis, and he’s probably right. She was also the most match-tested among WTA players, with 66 played in 2021, one more than Anett Kontaveit. Jabeur’s diverse, unconventional game, if you haven’t been paying attention, is delightful to watch.
Jabeur’s upcoming schedule is expected to include Stuttgart, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. As she moves forward, she said she hopes 2022 was just the beginning of many terrific memories.
“I want to win more titles,” she said. “I want to be in the Top 5. Yeah, that’s the key for us. We’re trying to find every single detail to push for what’s missing for me to be one of the best five players in the world, and we’re getting there.
“We’re working very hard – we’re just waiting for everything to click.”