Although Ons Jabeur finished this season as the No.2-ranked player among the Hologic WTA Tour players, tennis might not be her favorite sport. Her eyes gleam when she’s talking about soccer. She grew up playing the sport in Tunisia with her two brothers, Hatem and Marwen.

“I always skipped the Barbie -- sorry for my sister,” Jabeur said, half-apologizing to older sister Yasmine. “She was left alone with that. But, yeah, always wanted to play with a real team.

“It’s still one of my dreams to just put everything in the shoes, the socks high, the outfit. Maybe one day. You never know.”

Thirty-two nations square off beginning Sunday, Nov. 20 at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Half of the 22 players -- representing eight different countries -- gathered for the recent WTA Finals in Fort Worth had a horse in that race.

Brazil, the country represented by doubles qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia, has won five titles, the most of any nation.

France is defending champion after winning the title four years ago in Russia. With Tunisia and France both in Group D -- they play Nov. 30 -- will there be any trash-talking between Jabeur and Caroline Garcia?

“Of course it’s always a big competition and I’m a sports fan and obviously World Cup is even followed by non-sports fans so I will definitely try to follow,” Garcia said. “I will quietly watch in front of my TV. I think she’s more of a fan than I am.”

We’ll take that as a no. Jabeur, for the record, plans to be there. Also for the record? Garcia did not grow up playing soccer.

“Trust me,” she said, smiling, “it’s better I did not.”

The doubles team of Desirae Krawczyk and Demi Schuurs each represent countries -- the United States and the Netherlands, respectively -- with teams in the field. Schuurs was intensely involved with soccer from the beginning.


“I was 6 years old when I started,” Schurrs said. “Then at 12 years old, I had to choose between soccer and tennis. The thing is, my coach always wanted me to stop for injuries.”

One day, she appeared for tennis practice in long sleeves and started playing a one-hand backhand.

“And my coach was, ‘Come on, be serious,’” Schuurs said. “I kept going and he said, ‘Hey, this is the last time. You have to play normal.’”

And then Schuurs pulled up her sleeve, revealing a broken arm -- because of a soccer injury. Even though she had been invited to play goal for the Dutch junior team in her region at the age of 11, that was the end of soccer.”

A good decision, in retrospect. Her brother, Perr, she said, nearly made the national team.

“It had to help her hand-eye coordination,” Krawczyk said.

Said Schuurs, laughing: “And my reactions at the net.”

“Yes,” Krawczyk said, “she’s my goalkeeper.” 

Gabriela Dabrowski (Canada) and Giuliana Olmos (Mexico) also both had a rooting interest.

“I played soccer in elementary school, in fourth and fifth grade,” Olmos said. “But I was God awful. My footwork was terrible.”

This, from someone who makes a living on her feet.

“I know, I know,” she said. “I still can’t play soccer. I’m not very fast. I’m kind of clumsy. I’m only good at tennis.”

Olmos said that at Mexico’s Billie Jean King Cup competitions, the team sometimes plays soccer-tennis -- tennis with a soccer ball, propelled by feet. She said soccer probably didn’t help her learn skills applicable to tennis -- but, as Dabrowski joked, her failures on the pitch may have led her to focus more on tennis.

As a child, Dabrowski played soccer with her father, who always encouraged her to play a number of sports. With foot speed an issue, she said goalie was the only position she could ever play.

“I like to not let a ball get past me when I’m at net,” she said. “I’m super-excited for Canada. I think we haven’t made it in 36 years.”

Precisely. The last time was 1986, when Canada went 0-3 and failed to score a goal.

A brief survey reveals a variety of video clips that highlight the startling skills the WTA Tour players have when it comes to soccer:

-- At this year’s Wimbledon, Ons Jabeur spies a ball rolling up to her on the baseline. Spinning the ball under her left foot, she pops it with her right and the ball jumps right up onto her racquet. Two years ago at Roland Garros, she takes an errant shot from Danielle Collins out of the air with her right foot -- sending it well past the baseline on the other side of the court.

-- Iga Swiatek is even more precise a year ago at the All England Club, when an errant serve comes back to her, casually throws out her right foot and deflects the ball, on a perfect trajectory, into the hands of a surprised ball kid.

-- Daria Kasatkina demonstrating some nice touch, bounces a soccer ball 38 times before it hits the ground.

-- Simona Halep, playing soccer against then-coach Darren Cahill at Indian Wells, , then goes in for the goal.

So, who is the best soccer player among the 22 women gathered for the WTA Finals in 2022?

Olmos and Dabrowski scanned a group photo of the Fort Worth participants as they mulled the question.

“Ons is good, and Kasatkina, too,” Dabrowski said. “I’m going to say Bea [Haddad Maia] because Brazil is always good at soccer. And maybe Caro [Garcia] because didn’t they win the last World Cup?”

Said Olmos, “I’m going to go with Kasatkina.”

Swiatek enthusiastically tackled the question.

“I know that Dasha can play a little bit soccer,” Swiatek said. “Ons for sure. Me? No. I think my technique is horrible. But, I’m pretty enthusiastic. And I can't run a lot. But Dasha and Ons, for sure they play good soccer.”


Said Jabeur: “I’m going to be arrogant in this one -- me. I mean respect to other girls, but if you say soccer, it's definitely me. I would love to play soccer.”

The last word goes to Schuurs:

“I know Ons is good, but my record is 109 [consecutive touches, foot to ball],” she said. “We can do a battle. I’m going to challenge her. I’m just going to need some different shoes.”