London, United Kingdom – A year after ending her first Grand Slam final in tears at Wimbledon’s centre court, Ons Jabeur got her “revenge” over 2022 champion Elena Rybakina in the quarterfinal of the same tournament.
Jabeur came back from a set down and finished the match 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in South London on Wednesday.
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Having overcome a number of major losses, a knee injury and subsequent surgery, the sixth-seeded Tunisian was a woman on a mission as she took full advantage of being a firm crowd favourite and raced to finish the final set.
She later said her emotions and the crowd’s “energy” kept her going despite losing the first set.
“I am going to end up writing a book on my emotions,” the quirky 28-year-old said after the match.
Cries of “come on Ons” and “allez Ons” punctuated the breaks in play at the centre court, packed to nearly its 15,000-spectator capacity, on a cool sunny afternoon at SW19.
Third-seeded defending champion Rybakina matched Jabeur’s energy with big serves and powerful returns as both players were neck and neck in the opening set.
However, Rybakina punished the Tunisian for her mistakes in the tie-breaker to win the first set.
Jabeur berated herself and her team for the wide returns but began the second set matching Rybakina’s power game with thunderous returns of her own.
The funky slices and drop shots that have become her trademark were thrown in for good measure as Jabeur broke her Kazakh opponent’s serve to bag the second set.
The crowd, which was fairly partisan in Jabeur’s favour, roared as she leaped up to celebrate going level.
After the match, Jabeur told reporters she has not watched last year’s final as it is “too painful” for her. Her performance belied her statement as she got control of the game and never let the defending champion find a way back in the final set.
“I kept going for my shots, and although I wish I could have exchanged this match with last year’s final, I feel like I am more in control now,” Jabeur said in her post-match comments.
Her semifinal opponent on Thursday will be Belarus’s big-serving Aryna Sabalenka, who will now be a favourite to win the tournament after sweeping aside US player Madison Keys in straight sets.
Jabeur said she hopes her longer match and shorter rest between matches will not come in the way of getting one step closer to her “dream” of winning Wimbledon.
‘Great display of skill’
The crowd will continue to back the Tunisian as her big smiles and loud roars have endeared her to the fans at the championship.
“She brings such a fresh burst of energy to the tournament and matches it with a great display of skill with those slices and drop shots,” tennis fan Sarah Crew told Al Jazeera outside centre court.
“It is a no-brainer that she will remain a crowd favourite with genial demeanour,” the fan from northwest England said.
Jabeur said she is aware her success has brought much excitement and joy to her country. “I have received so many messages as the tournament has progressed,” she said.
“I really hope I can go all the way and make Tunisia and Africa proud.”
For now, the emotive Tunisian will have to find a way to stop the hard-hitting baseline player from Belarus before getting a second shot at winning her first Grand Slam.