Ons Jabeur has become the first African and Arab woman in the 55-year professional era to reach the Wimbledon singles final – and she’ll now face Elena Rybakina, Kazakhstan’s first finalist, in an historic showdown.
Jabeur had to dismantle the fairytale run of her great friend, Tatjana Maria, to get to her pioneering destination on centre court on Thursday.
Ons Jabeur of Tunisia plays a forehand against Tatjana Maria of Germany during their women’s singles semi-final match.Credit:Getty
Mum-of-two Maria’s outlandish late-career run to the semi-finals at 34 has enchanted the tournament, but Jabeur, the trailblazing Tunisian known to the German’s kids as “Aunt Ons”, eventually spoiled their fun, winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
Rybakina, the 17th seed, then ruthlessly dispatched Romania’s 2019 champion Simona Halep 6-3, 6-3 in the second semi-final.
Halep, who’d won 12 straight matches at Wimbledon stretching back three years, simply couldn’t cope with the relentless aggression and power of the 23-year-old, who had knocked out Australia’s No.1 Ajla Tomljanovic in the quarter-finals.
It felt ironic that in the year the All England Club had banned Russian competitors because of the invasion of Ukraine that the Moscow-born Rybakina – who transferred her allegiance to Kazakhstan from Russia four years ago – should make the final.
Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur (right) embraces Germany’s Tatjana Maria at the net after beating her.Credit:AP
Earlier, the 27-year-old Jabeur told centre court: “I’m a proud Tunisian woman standing here today. I know in Tunisia, they’re going crazy right now!
“I just try to inspire really as much as I can – I want to see, not just Tunisian, but more Arab and African players on tour.
“I just love the game and want to share this experience with them. I see the juniors playing here at under-14, I saw them and I hope they grow up and play here on the centre court too.”
Her performance was largely inspiring, too, even if it was uneven.
Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina reacts after winning the first set against Romania’s Simona Halep.Credit:AP
Maria had battled back from a set down three times earlier in the tournament and when the German again fought to level the match at one set all, the world No.103 looked in position to pull off another unlikely triumph.
But watched by Australian legend Margaret Court, the last mother-of-two to make the semi-finals at Wimbledon 47 years ago, Maria found the “real” Jabeur materialising in the final set of a most entertaining contest.
The pair are great barbecue buddies but Jabeur, the world No.2, simply had too much skill, and far too much variety of shot, as she roasted Maria on a baking centre court in both the first and final stanzas.
Yet Maria, playing in her first quarter-final at the 49th attempt, couldn’t be faulted for her spirit as she frustrated her friend with the quality of her sliced backhand and a more aggressive approach in the second set.
“It was more difficult running for her balls. She killed me. She has to make me a barbecue now to make up for all the running she made me do!” laughed Jabeur, after they had shared an emotional embrace at the end.
“I definitely wanted to share the moment with her at the end because she’s an inspiration to so many players, including me.
“Coming back after having two babies? I still can’t believe how she did it.”
In the other match, Rybakina, who earned breaks early in both sets, overpowered Halep to become the youngest Wimbledon finalist since Garbine Muguruza, who lost to Serena Williams in 2017.
Halep, the 2018 French Open champion, had reached the semi-finals without dropping a set but was broken early in both sets.
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