On the eve of this year’s Wimbledon, Ons Jabeur was asked about her mood going into the tournament.
“I have a feeling about this one for some reason,” she said. “It will be amazing. For me I will be a hundred per cent ready to win it.”
Two weeks later, the Tunisian will step out on to centre court in her debut grand slam final, seeking a place in history as the first Arab woman, and the first woman from Africa, to win a major title.
Although only a recent breakout star, Jabeur’s popularity within tennis is no secret. Her sunny disposition and infectious charm have earned her the moniker “The Minister of Happiness” in her home country, where her performances have helped lift the mood in a nation gripped by economic and political crises.
Rivals on the women’s tour echo the sentiment, talking about her in glowing terms. After beating Tatjana Maria of Germany in the semi-final on Thursday, Jabeur broke with Wimbledon convention by grabbing her opponent’s hand and pulling her out into the centre of the court to a standing ovation from the crowd.
“It was really nice from her that at the end she wanted to celebrate with me even though it was her moment,” Maria said. “She’s an amazing person. I’m really happy for her and I hope she can win it.”
At 27, Jabeur is not an emerging young talent. Since winning the junior French Open in 2011 she has gradually worked her way up the global rankings, breaking into the top 100 in 2017 and the top 50 in 2020. At last year’s Wimbledon, she reached the quarter finals — only the second time she had moved past the round of 16 at a grand slam.
Nor is Jabeur’s current form a surprise to those in the sport. She went into the tournament as the third seed and last month became the number two ranked player in the world. Asked before the championships who could challenge world number one Iga Świątek for the title, three-time Wimbledon winner Chrissie Evert said Jabeur was “about the only one”.
“I think to win it you’ve got to have an all-court game, you’ve got to be flexible, adaptable. It helps to have a big serve and power. She has all that,” said Evert.
Jabeur’s march to her first final has been relatively straightforward, as her top-ranked rivals have fallen away. Świątek suffered a shock exit in round three, while number two seed Anett Kontaveit was beaten a round earlier. Emma Raducanu, the top British women’s player, was knocked out in round two while Serena Williams, returning from a year away from tennis, lost in round one.
Now the Tunisian is just one match away from seeing her name etched on the Venus Rosewater Dish, the platter given to the women’s Wimbledon champion.
“I did a lot of times imagine myself giving the good speech, holding the trophy, seeing the trophy,”, said Jabeur after her semi-final win. “I did all of it. Now I need really to hold the trophy. That’s the only thing left for me. But I believe in that. I know that I can do it.”
Her opponent on Saturday will be Elena Rybakina, the Moscow-born 23-year-old who has represented Kazakhstan since 2018. Neither player has made it to a grand slam final before.
“I know how Ons plays. She knows how I play. We know each other well,” said Rybakina. “We are going together in this journey. I think it’s just amazing to think that you are making history.”
The positivity surrounding the women’s final stands in contrast to the more sullen mood of the men’s final, where Serbia’s Novak Djokovic will play for his seventh Wimbledon title against the tempestuous Australian Nick Kyrgios on Sunday.
Kyrgios’ journey to his first grand slam final has been dotted with sparkling performances, ill-tempered outbursts and combative exchanges with the press. He was fined for spitting in the direction of a spectator in the first round, accused of bullying by an opponent and later batted away a journalist who accused him of acting like he was above the rules for flouting Wimbledon’s strict dress code.
More damaging was a summons Kyrgios received during the tournament related to domestic abuse allegations in Australia made by a former girlfriend. He is due to appear in court in Canberra next month in relation to a charge of common assault following an incident in December last year. The player’s lawyers said he “is not considered charged with an offence until the first appearance” in court.
Kyrgios’ path to the final was ultimately smoothed by an injury to Spain’s Rafael Nadal, which ruled the 22-time grand slam winner out of their semi-final match.
Additional reporting by Nic Fildes in Sydney