PARIS -- Roland Garros holds a special place in Ons Jabeur's heart. Growing up in Tunisia, it was the only Slam she thought existed when she picked up a racquet and fell in love with the sport. It is where she made history 11 years ago, when she became the first Arab girl to win a junior Slam title. It is also where, in 2017, she became the first Arab, man or woman, to make the third round of a major.
Now as she returns to Paris as the only player to make three clay finals this season, following her first 1000-level title of her career, in Madrid, a final in Rome, Jabeur has her eye on history again.
Jabeur, 27, is looking to become the first Arab and North African player to win a Slam. Ranked at a career-high No.6 and sporting a tour-leading 17-3 record on clay, she is in the running.
Jabeur, Sakkari lead Day 1 action at Roland Garros
"I was confident that everything will come in time, but I always said it from the beginning of the season that three things: I want to be Top 5, I want to win more titles, and I want to win a Grand Slam," Jabeur told reporters at French Open Media Day. "I'm getting there in all those three.
"But I don't want to put the bad pressure on myself that I have to do it this year, otherwise it's going to be never. But I always believe that I can win a Grand Slam, and I feel like this season could be the right one, hopefully."
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Jabeur's ascension through 2022 has largely been overshadowed by the rise of World No.1 Iga Swiatek. But Jabeur has quietly built out a season of week-to-week consistency, a trend that has not been the hallmark of her game. Jabeur has played nine tournaments this year and made the quarterfinals or better in all but two. She has already made more finals in the past six weeks than she has in any single season before.
"I think physically I'm much better than before, and the fact that since the beginning of the season I said can I put more budget in recovery for myself," Jabeur said. "That I have been doing very well. Since Charleston, we worked really hard and had the period to prepare because before I was a little bit injured.
"I feel like a lot of things are taking places in my team, and that really helped me play a lot of matches from Madrid to Rome, which I was never used to. Usually I play a tournament and second, first match [of the next one] will be very tough for me."
Jabeur sits behind only Swiatek on the WTA Race to the Finals, which is based on points earned in 2022. She leads the Hologic WTA Tour in multiple stat categories, including winners (852), forehand winners (486), backhand winners (260) successful net approaches (196) and successful drop shots (103). She has won 11 of her past 12 matches.
"I feel the progress," Jabeur said. "I feel much better in my body, and that, I think, was really important for me. Because I always can really play good but if physically I'm not ready, then the level cannot follow."
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With her devastating drop shot, aggressive forehand and improvisational skills that can turn a broken play into a highlight reel, Jabeur is finally seeing her game come together. It's a particular source of pride for Jabeur.
"I have had a lot of not just coaches, but people saying that what I'm doing is not right and I should stop doing drop shots," Jabeur said. "That kind of affected my confidence, my self-esteem a little bit. Obviously I was kind of believing them, and I wasn't listening to myself and I was judging myself a lot. I was being so hard with myself, because I wasn't getting the result that I wanted.
"Then I start to listen to myself more, I start to believe in myself, in the shots that I was making, in the game style I was making. Then everything changed."
"How to beat you?" @Ons_Jabeur— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 20, 2022
*shows water bottle* "Put something in here" @iga_swiatek 😂#RolandGarros pic.twitter.com/z8joyZXXie
Jabeur's rejection of a more conventional game style is precisely what makes her a fan favorite today. The irony is not lost on Jabeur, who is undeniably one of the most liked players in the locker room.
"It took me time," Jabeur said. "Not just in one day, but I think it was like two, three years. As soon as we realized this, everything started to be better. I started to put myself before coaches who didn't listen to me, and I was like, 'Listen. It's my career. I'm controlling this.' I'll listen to the coach, of course, but I had to have this.
"Everything started to be great with Bertrand [Perret] before, my French coach. Nowadays, everything is really great. I felt like I needed that coach who can listen to me and not just coach me the same as he coaches another player."