Remarkable Comeback Lifts Jabeur Into Second Straight Wimbledon Final

Ons Jabeur (photo: Wimbledon video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, July 14, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Two games from a disappointing defeat, Ons Jabeur looked resigned to another major loss at the Wimbledon Championships. A year ago, she fell to Elena Rybakina in three sets in the final at the All England Club. On Thursday afternoon, Jabeur took matters into her own hands against World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who was vying for the No. 1 ranking that would be hers with a win. Through resilience, composure and self-belief, Jabeur got her revenge – a third straight victory over a Top-10 opponent to go with earlier ones this week against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and Rybakina.

On her fifth match point, the World No. 6 from Tunisia served a 103-mile per hour ace out wide for game, set and match, winning 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 over the No. 2 seed Sabalenka of Belarus. The victory lifted Jabeur into her second straight Wimbledon title match and third major final overall. She is the first woman to reach back-to-back Wimbledon finals since Serena Williams in 2018-19.

Upon securing victory, Jabeur, 28, shared a warm embrace at the net with the fallen Sabalenka. Then, after depositing her racquet, she blew a kiss to the crowd and waved. Soon, Jabeur kissed her right hand and bent down near the net and patted the hallowed Perennial Ryegrass three times. She was thankful to be through to another Wimbledon final.

“I’m very proud of myself. Maybe the old me would have lost the match,” Jabeur said in her on-court interview. “Thank you to the crowd that kept me in the match. Thank you, guys, for cheering for me until the last minute and believing in me.”

On Saturday afternoon, Jabeur, known to her legion of fans as the “Minister of Happiness” because of how she makes them feel, will face the first unseeded Wimbledon finalist in the Open Era in Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic. They have split four previous matches, the last two won by the Czech star earlier this season (Australian Open second round, Indian Wells third round).

When asked if she knew who she was playing in the final, Jabeur quipped, “Oh, yeah, I was watching. Marketa is a great player. I already lost two times to her this year. Going for my revenge I guess is working.”

Jabeur, who has now won 12 of her last 13 matches at the grass-court major, succeeded with a variety of weapons against Sabalenka – namely her slice backhand and adroit drop shots. Each element of surprise served her well throughout the two-hour, 19-minute Centre Court match that was played with the roof shuttered. She finished with three aces, won 74 percent (43 of 58) of her first-serve points, struck 28 winners and converted three of 10 break points. By comparison, Sabalenka fired 10 aces, won 71 percent (55 of 77) of her first-serve points and hit 39 winners. However, the Belarusian committed 45 unforced errors and was outpointed by Jabeur 110-104.

Like in her quarterfinal victory against Rybakina, Jabeur rallied from a set down to beat Sabalenka after losing a first-set tie-break and trailing 4-2 in the second set. She won four straight games in the middle set and turned the match in her favor after breaking her opponent in the sixth game of the deciding set.

“I’m learning to transfer the bad energy into the good one,” Jabeur said. “The anger I had from losing the first set I tried to stay focused. You know, some things I have no control over. She can ace any time, she can hit a big serve even if I have a break point. That’s frustrating a bit, but I’m glad I’m accepting it. I’m just digging deep and trying to win this match.”

Vondrousova first unseeded women in Open Era to reach Wimbledon final 

In the opening semifinal on Centre Court with the roof closed, 42nd-ranked Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic ended the remarkable British fortnight of sentimental favorite Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, 6-3, 6-3, to become the first unseeded woman in the Open Era to reach the Wimbledon final and first since Billie Jean King achieved the feat in 1963.

Throughout the 75-minute semifinal, Vondrousova played a smart match while the 76th-ranked wildcard Svitolina showed flatness. The 24-year-old Czech lefty hit the angles from both wings, changed the pace of her returns with some well-timed and chosen drop shots, and denied Svitolina the pace she likes that had allowed the Ukrainian to dominate other opponents like World No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals.

Vondrousova also hit some out-of-sight passing shots that left Svitolina running on empty. Although she struggled to close out the match after she jumped out to a set and 4-0 lead, everything turned out well by the end. She hit 22 winners and outpointed Svitolina 70-52. The victory lifted Vondrousova into her second career major title match following her run to the 2019 French Open final.

“I cannot believe it, I’m just very happy I made the final,” Vondrousova said in her on-court interview. “It was very tough. Elina is such a fighter and such a great person. …

“I didn’t play for six months last year,” she added. “You never know if you’re going to be at that level again. I’m just so grateful to be here, to be healthy and play tennis again.”

After missing three of the four majors last year while recovering from surgery to repair an injured left wrist, Vondrousova has made a remarkable comeback in 2023 by winning 30 of her 40 matches — including six straight at Wimbledon. She has triumphed over four seeded players — No. 12 Veronika Kudermetova, No. 20 Donna Vekic, No. 32 Marie Bouzkova and No. 4 Jessica Pegula — and dropped just two sets en route to her showdown with No. 6 seed Jabeur.

“They are all great on grass,” Vondrousova said in her press conference. “I was like, ‘Okay, maybe, you know, I’ll get better and I can do something here.

“For me, it’s really crazy this is happening. But I think anything can happen in tennis.”

Djokovic has won seven Wimbledon titles, the other three guys zero

On paper, the men’s singles semifinals are decidedly slanted in Novak Djokovic‘s favor. After all, Djokovic, 36, has won the prestigious major crown seven times — including four straight — while the other three guys in the semifinals (Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner) have won zero.

The No. 2 seed Djokovic will face No. 8 seed Sinner followed by top seed Alcaraz against No. 3 seed Medvedev. The winner will play in the final on Sunday. It is Djokovic’s 12th Wimbledon semifinal and his 46th major semifinal overall, which equals Roger Federer‘s record for men. The other three have been in exactly one Wimbledon semifinal combined and 10 major semifinals overall (Medvedev six, Alcaraz three, Sinner one).

In his press conference Tuesday following his 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev, the defending champion Djokovic was asked if he considers himself the favorite to win the Wimbledon title.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but of course I would consider myself favorite,” he said. “Judging from the results I had in my career here, previous four occasions of Wimbledon that I won, and reaching [an]other semifinal, so I do consider myself [the] favorite, yes.”

Kichenok and Pavic win Wimbledon mixed doubles title that was historic

Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, pairing with six-time major titlist Mate Pavic from Croatia to capture the mixed doubles title. Kichenok and Pavic, playing together for the first time since 2017, defeated Xu Yifan of China and Joran Vliegen of Belgium, 6-4, 6-7 (9), 6-3, after the unseeded pair saved a championship point in a second-set tie-break. The seventh-seeded Kichenok and Pavic reset during the decisive set of the two-hour, seven-minute final on Centre Court with the roof closed. Neither had their serve broken.

The 30-year-old Kichenok is a former Top-10 player currently ranked No. 15, while Pavic, also 30, was once ranked World No. 1 and is a 35-time tour-level titlist. He’s now won three major mixed doubles titles to go along with three Grand Slam men’s doubles crowns. He previously won the 2016 US Open mixed doubles title with Laura Siegemund and the 2018 Australian Open with Gabriela Dabrowski.

“It’s an incredible feeling, always, at Wimbledon,” the 17th-ranked Pavic said during the trophy ceremony. “I played three finals here; I lifted a trophy two years ago. [This was the] first time in the mixed final, so it’s always incredible to play here. It’s always a special story with Wimbledon. I enjoyed it for these two weeks.

“Of course, I want to thank Lyudmyla for playing with me. We have the same physio. He’s Croatian. [Lyudmyla and I] played in 2017 together for the first time  [ at Wimbledon]. After that, we never played, and through him this year we got together to play Wimbledon.”

Kichenok, the first Ukrainian titlist of any kind in Wimbledon history, added: “It feels amazing. I was enjoying being on Centre Court today a lot. I want to thank my partner for playing incredible these two weeks.

“I just want to try to encourage the people in Ukraine with my performance. I hope it will help the. A little bit, because they are fighting for their freedom.”

By the numbers

Ons Jabeur is the sixth woman in the Open Era to win her first three Grand Slam semifinals. She joins Garbiñe Muguruza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Naomi Osaka, Mary Pierce and Evonne Goolagong.

Meanwhile, the battle for the men’s World No. 1 ranking is at stake this weekend as both Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic have a chance to leave London ranked No. 1.

Currently, Alcaraz enjoys an 80-point lead over Djokovic in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. If both lose in Friday’s semifinals, the 20-year-old Spaniard will remain No. 1.

However, whoever earns the better result will earn the World No. 1 ranking. If both Alcaraz and Djokovic meet in the final on Sunday, it would be a winner-takes-all proposition, playing for the Wimbledon trophy and the No. 1 ranking.

“Quotable …”

“I remember the first time that I came here [to Wimbledon], it was really an unbelievable feeling to be able to play here.

“Right now, it’s totally different for me. I can’t believe that I’m in this position. Right now, in just a short period. It’s something crazy for me.”

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, during his press conference Wednesday after defeating Holger Rune in the quarterfinal round.