Ahead of next week's Dubai Duty Free Championships, Tunisian trailblazer Ons Jabeur opens up about her unconventional journey from a country with little tennis history to a current career-high ranking in the Top 60.
WTA Staff
February 15, 2019

DUBAI, UAE - When it comes to trailblazing in tennis, few have done it quite like Tunisia's Ons Jabeur, who has racked up milestone after milestone not only for her country but her region.

The 24-year-old became the first Arab player to win a junior Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2011, and then six years later at the same venue to reach the third round of a senior Grand Slam. Last year, Jabeur capped off a career-best season by becoming the first Arab WTA finalist in Moscow, where she beat Sloane Stephens and Anastasija Sevastova before falling to Daria Kasatkina - and she currently sits at a career-high ranking of World No.56, once again the best peak set by an Arab woman.

Ahead of her appearance at next week's Dubai Duty Free Championships, Jabeur opened up to Reem Abulleil of The National about what it's taken to get this far.

"I didn’t have a good team behind me," she explained about the six years it took her to crack the Top 100 after her junior success. "No one could tell me what to do because we come from a country where tennis is not really popular, so maybe I was missing someone who can tell me what to do, tell me where to go - and fortunately I was able to do that on my own.

"I was trying to see how players practice on tour, I was trying to be there with the professionals because it was something new for me and new for my country - it was kind of difficult. But I'm happy it came now, at least it came. For many players it didn't come at all and they gave up before reaching the ranking they want."

Ons Jabeur, Monica Puig - Roland Garros 2011 - Getty
2011 Roland Garros girls' champion Ons Jabeur with runner-up Monica Puig

From a young age, Jabeur faced high expectations due to her precocious shotmaking skills - now evident on a regular basis for Tour audiences, such as the phenomenal pickup with which she won October 2018's Shot of the Month. But it took her a number of years to figure out the kind of set-up she wanted around her.

"I learned from also choosing my team, I'm not 16 or 17 anymore," she explained. "When I was 17 I had coaches who tried to control me, tried to do things that I didn’t like and I couldn't say no. I was just working until I couldn't take it anymore and I would explode. I learned to say no and now I'm growing up and I think I can make my own decisions."

To this end, her team now includes French coach Bertrand Perret and husband and fitness trainer Karim Kamoun. It's a truism in sports that talent without a work ethic won't get an athlete far, but Jabeur points out that the opposite also holds. "Many people were telling me how talented I am - I know I'm talented, but talent without work is nothing and talent with so much work is also nothing," she said.

"I was trying to have good balance and everyone tells you to work, work, work - but I'm not an animal, I need to rest also. I think sometimes I was working too hard and there was no results and I got annoyed and probably didn't win any matches, I wasn't enjoying maybe being on the court."

Now, though, everything is pointing in the right direction for Jabeur - who says that she dreamed of winning Roland Garros at the age of six, and even though "everybody laughed", she still has that goal in her sights.

"I know I have a huge opportunity to be one of the greatest players and I'm really working on it," she declared.