North Africa hasn’t enjoyed much success on the ATP or WTA tour in recent years, however the emergence of Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur this season will offer significant hope to the next generation of North African players. The 25-year old became the first Arab woman to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament at the beginning of 2020 and many are predicting that she can continue climbing the rankings over the coming months.
Jabeur turned professional back in 2008 and has been described as a ‘late bloomer’ by tennis pundits, who have enjoyed watching her unique style of play. Comfortable on all surfaces, the world number 39 has the tendency to go for the spectacular and is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining players on the tour. She also has the ability to mix things up and is equally as comfortable deploying a drop shot or slice. Her coach Bertrand Perret has helped her harness the occasionally erratic nature of her game, and although she still attempts the odd audacious effort, her all-round play has markedly improved since she began working alongside the Frenchman.
She has been widely tipped for future Grand Slam success and her versatility would certainly suggest that she has a bright future at the highest level. Despite the notable time difference, swathes of Tunisian sports fans tuned in to watch Jabeur dispatch Johanna Konta in the first round of the Australian Open, before she edged past Caroline Garcia to secure her place in the third round of the competition. However, it was her three-set victory over Caroline Wozniacki which caused tennis aficionados to sit up and take notice. It was the former world number one’s final appearance on the tour, and Jabeur admitted that she was a little nervous about the prospect of playing the 29-year old in such unique circumstances. She later added that her opponent had been an inspiration to her and that she felt lucky to have played alongside the decorated Dane.
Despite being tipped for a fourth-round exit, Jabeur picked up a straight-sets victory over Qiang Wang to set up a quarter-final meeting with Sofia Kenin. The American proved far too tough for the Tunisian, winning 6-4, 6-4 and ending the Ksar Hellal-born player’s hopes of reaching the final four. Kenin has enjoyed a breakthrough twelve months and went on to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup just a few days later. She has already been priced up as the 10/1 sixth favorite for the 2021 Australian Open in the tennis betting markets and would relish the opportunity to become the first player to win back-to-back titles in Melbourne since Victoria Azarenka in 2013.
Following her history-making run down under, Jabeur is now setting her sights on becoming the first Arab player to win a Grand Slam event, and having beaten some of the world’s best players in Melbourne, she’ll be feeling confident of her chances at both SW19 and Flushing Meadows later this year. She’ll also be hoping to use her recent success to help raise the profile of tennis in Tunisia. Although it is highly unlikely to usurp football as the country’s number one sport anytime soon, her on-court exploits will surely have a positive effect and help raise interest in the game across North Africa.
Although it’s taken a while for the 25-year-old to make her breakthrough, she will surely continue to go from strength-to-strength over the next twelve months. Further success will also enable her to continue her mission of helping inspire young players and giving them an incentive to pick up a racket and start playing the game on a regular basis. The future of Tunisian tennis appears to be in good hands as Ons Jabeur’s ascent looks set to continue throughout 2020.