Ons Jabeur keeps making history on Wimbledon's hallowed Centre Court: a year after reaching the quarterfinals in a historic first for Arab women, Jabeur has gone one step further in 2022. The No.3 seed rallied from a set down to defeat Marie Bouzkova in Tuesday's quarterfinals, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1, to reach the semifinals at a major for the first time.
Across both men's and women's tennis, Arabs and North Africans were previously winless in major quarterfinals in the Open Era, including two losses by Jabeur herself; she lost to eventual champion Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open, and Aryna Sabalenka on London's lawns 12 months ago. But now, she'll next face fellow first-time semifinalist Tatjana Maria for a spot in the Wimbledon final as Maria also came from a set down in beating fellow German Jule Niemeier in Tuesday's other three-set quarterfinal. They'll play for the first time in four years.
"I was hoping that I could get to this stage for a long time already. I struggled few times in the quarterfinal," Jabeur told the press after the match. "I was talking a little bit to [Moroccan ATP former World No.22 and four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist] Hicham Arazi, and he told me, 'Arabs always lose in the quarterfinals and we are sick of it. Please break this.' I was, like, 'I'll try, my friend,' ... We were just texting, and he was really happy. He was, like, 'Thank you for finally making the semifinal. Now you can really go and get the title.'"
Tale of the tape: Having lost her two previous Grand Slam quarterfinals in straight sets, Jabeur was equally slow to start against Bouzkova. She dropped her first set of the tournament in the face of an inspired Czech foe who was bidding to upset her third seeded player this fortnight; in sets two and three, though, she broke Bouzkova's serve six times in total to rally for a 1 hour, 47-minute win.
"I think I played really good from beginning of the second set, especially having a early break kind of helps me gain me the confidence," Jabeur said. "I know it wasn't easy playing Marie. She gets all the balls and doesn't make, to win a point, easy for me. I'm glad I stepped in with my game. I was more aggressive in the second set, and especially tactically I was playing some angles that she didn't like much."
Jabeur hit 30 winners to 27 unforced errors in victory, and cleaned up her shot-making against Bouzkova's elite defenses after falling a set behind; she hit 14 errors (to 10 winners) in the opener, and hit more winners than errors in the second and third sets. She won eight straight games from 2-1 in the second set, and after dropping serve at love in the fifth game of the decider, rebounded to win eight of the last nine points.
Semifinal outlook: Though Jabeur and Maria have played three previous times, all were a lifetime ago in the context of their current careers. Maria won their only tour-level meeting in Linz in 2017, with Jabeur earning wins in qualifying matches at the 2014 US Open and in Beijing in 2018.
Already a mother to daughter Charlotte when they last played, Maria left the Hologic WTA Tour again to give birth to her second daughter in the years since, while Jabeur has skyrocketed into the world's elite.
With Maria having three wins against seeds in the fortnight so far, Jabeur is not taking the World No.103, and her good friend, lightly.
"It's so nice to see her with her babies on tour. The fact that she really came back and did everything and, really, she deserves to be here," Jabeur said. "She had a really tough draw, winning against Ostapenko, winning against Sakkari. Really, she played really good. I know she could play really good on grass.
"Obviously it's tough to play her and I was joking with Charlotte, I was telling her, 'Are you going to support me or your mom?' I'm trying to turn all the kids to my side ... I'm really happy for her that she's getting what she deserves. I know she struggled a lot. It's not easy coming back after having two babies. It's going to be a great match between us, a lot of respect, for sure.