By any calculation, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur is one of the great wonders of the tennis world. Her unique and wildly eclectic game (and matching personality) helped her become the first Arab tennis player of either gender to crack the Top 10.
Like so many successful professionals, she had a lot of help in her long journey to the top. There was a $50,000 Grand Slam grant from the ITF, a supportive husband, but the biggest boost came from within.
“I think maybe back in 2019 when everything changed in my head,” Jabeur told reporters after winning her second-round match at Wimbledon. “I was like really fed up with the situation being [ranked] in maybe 80, 60. I knew my place was in Top 10. I was like, `OK, enough is enough. Now it’s time to organize my work and really believe more in myself.’ ”
The result was a quarterfinals berth at the 2020 Australian Open. She won the 2021 title on grass in Birmingham and this year she was the champion in Madrid and in Berlin two weeks ago – her second grass-court title. Are you sensing a trend for the player who advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year?
After World No.1 Iga Swiatek, the No.2-ranked Jabeur is touted as the second favorite. On Friday, she faces 19-year-old Frenchwoman Diane Parry in a third-round match, one of eight from the bottom half of the draw. Parry was one of seven teenagers in the main draw and the first into the third round in her Wimbledon debut. She’s ranked a career-high No.77. The two have never played.
Jabeur defeated qualifier Katarzyna Kawa 6-4, 6-0, while Parry was a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Mai Hontama. Both of Jabeur’s victories here have come in less than an hour – her 54-minute victory over Mirjam Bjorklund in the first round was the shortest completed match of the tournament – and she’s won 15 of 16 service games.
If Jabeur has a weakness, it’s the inability to sit still. She led the Hologic WTA Tour last year with 67 matches played, two more than Anett Kontaveit, four more than Aryna Sabalenka. In the run up to Roland Garros, she played 20 matches in Charleston, Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome in a span on seven weeks – and promptly lost in the first round in Paris.
“I think playing a lot of matches was very tiring physically and mentally, but especially mentally,” Jabeur said. “Going to the French Open, I really felt that pressure of everybody expecting me to do well. I wasn’t used to that. Just invisible player going to Grand Slams, doing well sometimes.”
“But, yeah, I tried to learn from that, not overplay, not play a lot of matches on grass, just prepare myself for the main goal. For me the main goal was Wimbledon even before the year starts.”
And now she’s the highest seed left in the bottom half of the draw.
No.5 Maria Sakkari vs. Tatjana Maria
Here’s a conundrum: Sakkari, who has a powerful, fluid game seemingly made for grass, has never been past the third round at Wimbledon in six attempts.
That could change on Friday for Sakkari who was recently a grass-court semifinalist for the first time in Berlin.
“My serve [161 aces in 2022] has improved, my entire game has been more aggressive lately,” Sakkari said after a 6-4, 6-3 second-round victory over Viktoriya Tomova. “That really, really helps. I’m just enjoying my game on the grass because there were certain people saying I could never play on the grass.
“But I believe that I really can.”
History says Maria might be a handful. The 34-year-old German is ranked No.103, but grass (she’s 20-18 for her career) is her best surface by far. The head-to-head is 1-1 and Sakkari’s first-round win at this year’s Australian Open was a taut 6-4, 7-6 (2) struggle. Maria got here by upsetting No.26 Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.
“Obviously she loves the grass,” Sakkari said of Maria. “She slices everything. She has a good serve. Just have to try and play my game, and just try to actually be as aggressive as I can. I’m just excited to get to play her again this year.”
No.12 Jelena Ostapenko vs. Irina-Camelia Begu
Ostapenko won the French Open five years ago, but believe it or not, grass is her best surface – by far. After defeating qualifier Yanina Wickmayer 6-2, 6-2, she’s now 37-17 on grass (.685). She advanced to the semifinals here in 2018 and the quarterfinals in 2017.
Still, her most recent experiences – a first-round loss in 2019 and a third-round defeat in 2021 – have been less than satisfying. Ostapenko has proved to be her aggressive self so far, hitting 74 winners and 12 aces in two matches. She returned to the Top 20 after winning the title in Dubai back in February.
The No.43-ranked Begu prevailed 6-4, 6-4 over Elisabetta Cocciaretto. She beat Ostapenko in the only match they’ve played, four years ago in Madrid.
No.15 Angelique Kerber vs. No.24 Elise Mertens
For what it’s worth, Kerber is the only former Wimbledon champion in the bottom half of the draw. The top featured four – Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza – two of whom are still in play.
Kerber, appearing in her 51st consecutive major – the second-longest streak behind Alize Cornet’s 62 – was a 6-3, 6-3 winner over Magda Linette What is about the grass that rejuvenates the 2018 Wimbledon champion? She was a semifinalist here a year ago at the age of 33.
“Wimbledon is really a special place, especially for me where I won this tournament once, playing so many times [four] semifinals,” Kerber said. “Seeing the crowd, seeing family, faces, it feels so good to being back here. I mean, it’s always a tough tournament where you have to play your best. I think I can play always like few percent better than in other tournaments.”
Mertens extended her streak of 18 consecutive Grand Slam third rounds by saving match points to beat Panna Udvardy in the second round.
Other notable matches:
- No.33 Zhang Shuai vs. Caroline Garcia
- No.28 Alison Riske vs. Marie Bouzkova
- Lesia Tsurenko vs. Jule Niemeier