Jabeur primed for success after 2022 breakthroughs, heartbreaks

Jan 12 (Reuters) – Ons Jabeur took 10 years to reach a Grand Slam final, but losing in the title clash at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year has not deterred the Tunisian, who looks primed for major silverware as she attempts to break new ground in 2023.

The 28-year-old trailblazer became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final and the first African woman to reach the U.S. Open final in the Open Era, but Elena Rybakina and Iga Swiatek shut the door on her opportunities to write history.

Jabeur left Flushing Meadows in tears but vowed to come back stronger, confident she would reach a Grand Slam final again with her “never-give-up” attitude.

Having steadily risen to a career-high ranking of number two in the world, Jabeur feels 2023 will be the year she takes the final step to the upper echelons of women’s tennis, having experienced heartbreak in two finals.

“I’m doing everything possible to win a Grand Slam. For me, I’m just going to go for it. This year, 2023, is about ‘just be free’ and play my game on the court,” she said in Adelaide.

As the women’s game continues to get stronger and more physical, Jabeur is one who has bucked the trend to rely on her finesse and craftiness on court to win titles.

In that sense, Jabeur is an outlier who loves to upset opponents’ rhythm, making them feel uncomfortable with slices and variations that have often wrong-footed several top players.

“I think that she’s got a great mind, cerebrally. She does a lot of things players don’t like,” John McEnroe told Eurosport.

But the seven-times Grand Slam champion added that Jabeur needed to improve her physical fitness if she was to win majors.

She “needs to be in that superior fitness (bracket) so that she can do her thing and impact her opponents more …. Because of the style she plays, it is more of a premium for her,” he added.

No one would begrudge Jabeur if she were to finally win a major in an increasingly competitive women’s circuit.

Nicknamed the “Minister of Happiness”, Jabeur is well-loved by her peers for her graciousness on and off the court, so much so that she was voted the winner of the WTA’s Sportsmanship Award at the end of 2022.

Jabeur’s charm on court and on social media has won her many fans, with Naomi Osaka describing the Tunisian as the “nicest person I’ve ever met” after she cracked jokes and made her feel at ease when she was a nervous newcomer on the tour.

“Over the years, watching her rise through the tour and become the star that she is has been incredibly joyful to watch,” Osaka said.

“I can’t wait to see her create more history and ascend even higher.”

Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Bradley Perrett

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