Ons Jabeur is back into the Wimbledon final, and she did it the hard way. Two games from defeat, the No.6 seed rallied for a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-3 win over No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka on Centre Court to book a place in her third career Grand Slam final and second straight at the All England Club.
Jabeur is the first woman to reach back-to-back finals at Wimbledon since Serena Williams in 2018-19. Williams lost both of those matches, and Jabeur will seek to avoid that fate when she faces Czech left-hander Marketa Vondrousova in Saturday's final -- the first unseeded Wimbledon women's finalist in the Open Era.
"Yeah, last year was my first final of a Grand Slam," Jabeur said. "Definitely getting closer to winning the Grand Slam that I always wished.
"I would say I always believed. But sometimes you would question and doubt it if it's going to happen, if it's ever going to happen. Being in the last stages, I think it does help you believe more."
For the second straight match at Wimbledon -- she also rallied from a set down in a rematch of the 2022 final to beat Elena Rybakina in the quarters -- Jabeur came from behind for a three-set victory. With wins over Rybakina, Sabalenka and Petra Kvitova this fortnight, Jabeur is the first woman to defeat three Top 10 players at Wimbledon since Williams in 2012.
"Yeah, I think this year the draw is much tougher," Jabeur said. "Playing against amazing players that not only they play good on any surface, but they play amazing on grass. That was very challenging.
"Also maybe it's a good thing, that gives me more confidence to be ready for the final. Also getting that rhythm of playing great tennis to be ready for the next match."
Chronicling the comeback: Sabalenka led by a set and a break at 7-6(5), 4-2 -- having come from 4-2 down in the first-set tiebreak -- to put herself on the precipice of both her second major final, and the World No.1 ranking.
But Jabeur erased two chances Sabalenka had for 5-3, before breaking her serve for the first time all match, to get herself back in the contest. She won four straight games in the middle set and broke Sabalenka in the sixth game of the decider, to turn the match all the way around.
She needed five match points to seal victory. Sabalenka saved two on her serve in the eighth game, and after two more passed Jabeur by from 40-0 up in the last game, she hammered down an ace to seal the win in 2 hours and 19 minutes. It was her first of the set and just her third of the match -- to counter Sabalenka's 10.
"For me it was just one serve, one game. I just wanted to try to break her. It was very difficult for me to return her serve. Especially if she was mixing a lot. Even the speed was difficult. I was like, honestly ... I'm just going to go in and hit my return. It was coming. I was returning much better.
"She missed some shots that did help me stay in the game. I was fighting every point. We just wait for a little bit of chance sometime to get the game, and that's what happened."
Championship outlook: Jabeur is 3-3 against Vondrousova all-time, including a win in their only grass-court meeting -- but she is 0-2 this year. The lefty was a winner at the Australian Open and in Indian Wells.
Say what?? Wanna see me in the finals?? I SAY YES WIMBLEDON 🔥 🔥 Let’s go!!! pic.twitter.com/eNkKdQuDuK— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) July 13, 2023
"For me, I'm going to learn a lot from not only Wimbledon's final but also US Open final and give it my best," Jabeur said. "Maybe this year was all about trying two times and getting it right the third time. So let's see.
"I'm going for my revenge. I didn't win against her this year. She has good hands. She plays very good. Honestly, I will try to focus on myself a lot. I'm not sure how she's going to play second Grand Slam final, I believe. We both hungry to win. Whoever deserve it more will win."