Ons Owns The Day, Jabeur Moves Onward To Another Wimbledon Semifinal

Ons Jabeur (photo: Wimbledon video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, July 13, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Twelve months after she lost to Elena Rybakina in a heartbreaking Wimbledon women’s final, Ons Jabeur got her revenge – and, oh, how sweet it was for the 28-year-old from Tunisia.

The sixth-seeded Jabeur defeated the World No. 3 Rybakina of Kazakhstan, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1, on famed Centre Court, in front of an audience that included Queen Camilla seated in the Royal Box.

Perhaps, it was destiny this time for Jabeur? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

“I believe in destiny,” admitted Jabeur, who last year became the first Arab woman and first woman from North Africa to reach a major final, during one of her Wimbledon fortnight press conferences. On Wednesday, following her one-hour, 53-minute quarterfinal battle against Rybakina, Jabeur suggested that maybe last year she wasn’t ready to play in a major final like Wimbledon. Then, Rybakina won 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to earn her first Grand Slam crown, which left the Tunisian in tears during the trophy ceremony.

“I wasn’t ready to play this kind of match. I don’t regret last year. It happened for a reason,” Jabeur said in her press conference Wednesday. “I always say it. It was meant to be this year. It was meant to be in the quarterfinals.

“I have learned a lot from the final last year. Definitely very proud of myself for the improvement that I did mentally, physically and with the tennis racquet.”

The rematch between Jabeur and Rybakina was the first rematch between the previous year’s finalists at Wimbledon since Serena and Venus Williams played in back-to-back finals from 2008-09.

While this year’s sequel looked like it would tilt in favor of Rybakina, especially after she won the opening set in a tiebreaker, Jabeur reset and came out strong from 4-all in the second set. This time, she would not be denied after winning eight of the next nine games to reach her third career major semifinal.

“I’m very happy with the performance,” Jabeur expressed in her on-court interview. It came two days after she clobbered No. 9 seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, 6-0, 6-3. “A lot of emotion out there, especially playing someone that serves really well. It’s frustrating to return. I’m glad that I did everything – shouted, got angry, then got calm and focused.”

“I had nothing to lose,” Jabeur explained later in press. “Especially after losing the first set, I didn’t care. I went for every shot.

“The way I played, I felt so free on the court. I felt like I believe in these stages of the semifinal, the finals in a Grand Slam. It’s definitely getting closer of getting my wish done.

“I don’t regret anything.”

Jabeur fired eight aces, won 76 percent (42 of 55) of her first-serve points, struck 35 winners and benefited from her opponent’s 20 unforced errors. Jabeur outpointed Rybakina 100-82.

“Well, for sure, she was making better decisions from the court than last year,” Rybakina said in her post-match press conference. “Definitely, she was playing good today, specially in some important moments, so that made [a] difference.”

Jabeur spoke of the connection between her and the crowd. “I believe the crowd gives me the great energy,” she explained. “Thank God they’re not against me! Or maybe if they are, it could be a good thing that I can turn the energy into a good one.

“Hopefully, this time I can go all the way and really make Tunisia and Africa proud.”

Jabeur’s semifinal opponent will be World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who can rise to No. 1 by reaching the final. The second seed from Belarus reached the Wimbledon semifinals for the second straight time, following a one-year gap after she and others from her country and Russia were banned from the tournament in 2022 because of the war in Ukraine. Sabalenka defeated No. 25 seed Madison Keys of the United States, 6-2, 6-4, in an hour and 27 minutes on No. 1 Court. She converted four of nine break points and outpointed her opponent 74-57. Keys was the last of 19 Americans remaining in the women’s main draw.

It feels amazing, I’m super happy to be back in the semifinals,” said Sabalenka, the only former major champion remaining in the tournament, in her post-match press conference. “Really looking forward for my semifinal match. Hopefully, I can do better than I did last time.”

The last time Sabalenka played in the Wimbledon semifinals she lost to eventual runner-up Karolina Pliskova in 2021. This year, Sabalenka has gone 17-1 in major competitions, including 5-0 on grass at Wimbledon. She won the Australian Open for her first Grand Slam title and reached the semifinals at the French Open last month.

Sabalenka said in her press conference that she looks forward to facing Jabeur, whom she has beaten in three of their four previous meetings. “She’s a great player. We always had tough battles against each other, very close matches. I am really looking forward to this great battle,” the Belarusian said.

Meanwhile, the other semifinal will pair 76th-ranked wild card Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who has been the surprise of the women’s draw upon returning to the WTA Tour earlier this year after giving birth to her daughter, Skaï, last October. She will face unseeded No. 42 Marketa Vondrouseva of the Czech Republic. Svitolina has defeated four former Grand Slam champions en route to reaching the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time since 2019.

None of the four remaining women’s players has won a Wimbledon singles title and only Sabalenka has won a major trophy.