No.3 seed Ons Jabeur's trailblazing has taken her all the way into the Wimbledon final after triumphing 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in a 1-hour, 43-minute battle of touch over Tatjana Maria.
Jabeur becomes the first Tunisian, first Arab and first African woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era. For the past four years, she has been setting records for her country and region. Now, with 22 wins in her past 24 matches, the 27-year-old has given herself the opportunity to go for the biggest milestone of all.
Before Jabeur, the only Tunisian to reach the Top 100 of the WTA rankings was Selima Sfar, who peaked at No.75 in July 2001. Jabeur became the first player from her country to reach a WTA final at Moscow 2018; to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2020 Australian Open, and to crack the Top 50 a month later; to win a WTA title at Birmingham 2021, paving the way for a Top 10 debut in October last year.
This season began on a negative note for Jabeur when she was forced to pull out of the Australian Open due to a back injury. But since returning in February, she has gone from strength to strength. Her overall 2022 record is 36-9, including final appearances in five of her last seven events and titles in two of them, Madrid on clay and Berlin on grass. Including the latter, Jabeur is now on a her second 10-match winning streak of the year.
Maria, 34, leaves Wimbledon having made history of her own. The No.103-ranked German was the oldest first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the Open Era, the first mother of two to make the last four of a major since Margaret Court at Wimbledon 1975 and only the fourth player ranked outside the Top 100 to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.
Match management: A clash between two of the most creative players on tour turned out to be an old-school Centre Court delight. Both sought to switch up pace, spin and depth. Knifed slice shots abounded, and there were 90 net points in total. (Jabeur won 28 of her 38 net approaches, and Maria 29 of her 52.)
Though two volleys helped Maria escape three break points in the first game of the match, Jabeur went on to dominate the opening set by keeping Maria at bay on return. The World No.2 broke Maria for 2-1 and again for 5-2 with a terrific pass and did not face a break point herself.
In the second set, Maria lured Jabeur into playing the game on her own terms. It made for some breathtaking shot-making, particularly an sliced forehand pass by Jabeur from a seemingly impossible position. But with points being decided by cat-and-mouse play more often than not, Maria's foothold in the match grew stronger. She broke for 3-1 with a winning drop shot and maintained that lead to the end of the set.
Maria's second-set momentum had also been based around strong serving -- she had only lost three points behind her first delivery. That number fell to 44% in the decider, and Jabeur took full advantage to take back control.
Abandoning the cutesy exchanges that had characterised the second set, Jabeur resumed her first-strike intent to run away with the third. A jumping backhand winner to seal the first hold signalled her intent; another terrific pass to break for 2-0 underlined it. A terrific three-deuce tussle in the fourth game was essentially Maria's last stand, and she ultimately conceded the double break after mishitting a volley way over the baseline.
Three games later, Jabeur served out the match with little fuss, sending down a service winner on her second match point to wrap up a historic win.
"I wanted to share that moment with her at the end because she's such an inspiration for so many players, including me"@Ons_Jabeur on @Maria_Tatjana #Wimbledon | #CentreCourt100 pic.twitter.com/JfOerhF1qC— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 7, 2022
Jabeur on when she started targeting the Wimbledon title: "The dream kind of started last year when I enjoyed playing here, enjoyed the crowd. I didn't play so many Wimbledons before. Usually it was the first and second round. It's tricky to play on grass.
I knew I was playing good on grass because of my game and everything. But last year, Melanie [Maillard] reminded me, my mental coach, I told her, 'I'm coming back next year for the title,' when I lost in the quarterfinals.
"I just love everything around here, the atmosphere and everything. It was my main goal from the beginning of the season, and even from last year. Everything about the energy, I just love being here."
Jabeur on final opponent Elena Rybakina: "She serves really well, so my main goal is to return as much balls as I can, to make her really work hard to win the point. I know she can hit really hard and hit a lot of winners. I know that my game could really bother her. I really try to focus more on myself, do a lot of slices, try to really make her work hard.
"I know that type of players usually win the point in two, three shots. For me, I'm just going to continue and do what I do on the court."