Ons Jabeur reaches maiden Grand Slam final at Wimbledon
Ons Jabeur ended the magical Wimbledon run of good friend Tatjana Maria and moved one victory away from creating her own fairytale story at the All England Club.
Jabeur edged an entertaining Centre Court encounter 6-2 3-6 6-1 to remain on course to be the first woman from an Arab country and the continent of Africa to win a grand slam.
The third seed proved too good for Maria in the end but the mum-of-two went down fighting after bringing her remarkable 35th appearance at a major to its conclusion in the semi-final stage.
Maria had never made the second week of a grand slam before this summer and only gave birth last April but lost out to first-time finalist Jabeur, who the 34-year-old will likely be backing to win in Saturday’s showpiece.
The friendship of the duo had been well-documented but there was a noticeable lack of eye contact between the “barbeque buddies” before they walked out on to Centre Court.
It was their fourth meeting but first since 2018 and plenty had changed since, with Jabeur ranked second in the world and Maria now a mother to Cecilia in addition to eight-year-old Charlotte.
Eight was the number of minutes it took for Maria to hold her first service game in a clear indicator of how tough a task she faced if she wanted to continue her dream run in SW19.
Jabeur would eventually break at the fifth time of asking and another followed in the seventh game, which saw the Tunisian produce a drop shot on the spin which Maria returned to draw big applause from a near-enough full 15,000 crowd.
Back-to-back aces helped the highest seed left in the competition take the opener in 38 minutes to move one set away from the final.
Maria was no stranger to being behind in the Championships, with four of her five matches going to a third set and three of them lasting over two hours.
Those trademark powers of recovery were on full display at the beginning of the second when she rallied back to hold from 15-40 down before she finally earned a first break point on Jabeur’s serve.
It had taken the German almost an hour to do the same against compatriot Jule Niemeier in the last eight but history repeated itself as the third seed was broken in the fourth game of the second set after a wonderful exchange of drop shots and slices.
A double-fault almost let Jabeur back in immediately but supreme defensive skills from Maria, who was making some exceptional lob shots with her back against the wall, clinched another key hold.
Despite a first set point coming and going, largely thanks to some brilliance at the net from Jabeur, world number 103 Maria did force a decider after one of her more comfortable service games.
A big weight of expectation had been on Jabeur’s shoulders for a lengthy period of time but she had handled the pressure impeccably at the All England Club so far and did so again.
The 27-year-old had exchanged texts with Morocco’s Hicham Arazi before her last-eight tie on Tuesday with four-time grand-slam quarter-finalist Arazi begging her to break the duck of players from Arab countries failing to make the semi-finals of majors.
Jabeur delivered on that occasion and found her best tennis at a critical time here.
A double-handed backhand winner with both feet off the grass showed she was ready to fight and when Maria double-faulted midway through the next game, Jabeur scented blood.
A glorious forehand down the line secured a decisive break and a second followed to send the Tunisian into a first grand-slam final.
Jabeur was magnanimous in victory and ensured her friend Maria shared in the applause at the end after both had embraced at the net.
“I want to say it is a dream come true after years and years of work. I am really happy it pays off and I continue for one more match now,” the Tunisian said on-court.
“I definitely wanted to share the moment with Tatjana at the end because she is such an inspiration for so many players, including me, coming back after two babies. I still can’t believe how she did it.”
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