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Wimbledon: “I don't want the journey to stop here,” says Jabeur

  • Matt Trollope

Ons Jabeur continues to blaze the trail for North African tennis, and female Arab athletes, thanks to her latest breakthrough at Wimbledon.

Having become the first Arab woman to win a WTA title just a few weeks ago in Birmingham, the 26-year-old has maintained her magical grass-court form and on Friday upset Garbine Muguruza to reach the fourth round at the All England Club for the first time. 

REPORT: Shapovalov ends Murray run, Swiatek and Sabalenka advance

“I'm doing amazing. I'm getting more and more confident on the court,” said Jabeur, who is approaching the top 20 after winning a tour-best 32 singles matches in 2021. 

“I hope that so many young generation is watching, and I can inspire them. Hopefully one day I could be playing with a lot of players next to me.

“It means a lot. Especially so many Arab people watching me and supporting me. I've received a lot of message from different people. It's amazing. 

“But I don't want the journey to stop here. I want to continue.”

Jabeur is becoming an increasing threat on the Grand Slam stage, having now reached at least the third round at seven consecutive major tournaments. She has twice appeared in the fourth round at Roland Garros and notched her best Slam result with a quarterfinal finish at Australian Open 2020.

But having never before gone beyond the second round at SW19, this has been by far her best Wimbledon, and it was a result achieved with perhaps her finest victory of all.

Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam champion – including at Wimbledon in 2017 – won a torrid first set and saved an incredible 24 break points throughout the match. 

But Jabeur was to be commended with creating 29 break point opportunities in all, with her inventive play captivating the Centre Court crowd.

Her 27 unforced errors were rendered largely irrelevant by 44 winners, a mixture of powerful forehands, wicked angles – including an incredible flick around the net post – and delightful drop shots which made Muguruza edgy underfoot. 

The last of those 44 winners – an inside-in forehand – ended the contest after almost two-and-a-half hours. 

“I always said that my game always reflects my character. I'm someone that doesn't like routine. Changing the shots and having fun on the court … reflects me as a person,” Jabeur said.

“(The difference is now) I think I'm more consistent in my game. I'm more believing in my shots. Before I can play any shots, but in my mind is not clear. When I put in my head that I should do this, should do that, step by step I think everything got clearer in my head. 

“I know which shot to do. I'm more confident, I have more experience. So I think that helped me a lot to be a better player on the court, also a dangerous one. 

“As soon as I got that clear in my head, the matches and the wins are coming.”

Swiatek growing on grass

Jabeur will next face Iga Swiatek, in one of the most exciting match-ups set for the last 16.

DRAW: Wimbledon women's singles

Jabeur grew up dreaming of success at Roland Garros, yet despite their being no grass-courts in Tunisia, she revealed: “everybody was telling me with my game I think the (grass) court will suit you, you will play amazing.”

It’s been a similar story for Swiatek, the 20-year-old Polish star who last year broke through for her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, and who also won the Rome WTA 1000 title on clay in May.

Until Eastbourne two weeks ago, however, she had never won a main-draw match on grass, and bowed out of that tournament in the second round.

She has been a player transformed on the lawns of the All England Club.

“I feel like I'm playing better and better every match, and I'm actually getting more confidence because I have been on a grass court for some time now. I'm practising a lot during my free days,” said Swiatek, who thumped Irina-Camelia Begu 6-1 6-0 in 55 minutes in the third round and is yet to drop a set this week.

“I just developed as a player. It's hard to compare my previous years on grass, because in 2019 I was, like, physically weaker. I also didn't have, like, many options on court, and I didn't actually have idea on how to play on grass. This time it's much, much better.

“My skills are just better and it's easier to adjust to any surface when you're just a better tennis player. 

“I grew up, so also mentally I can handle all the challenges.”

Korda’s champion connection

Swiatek’s fellow 20-year-old Sebastian Korda has been another revelation at Wimbledon this year, storming into the fourth round with a victory over 22nd seed Dan Evans. 

Korda revealed it was the first time he had ever been to Centre Court – even without fans – and he embraced the experience, beating Evans 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 to set a fourth-round showdown with Karen Khachanov. 

DRAW: Wimbledon men's singles

The result saw the ATP Media Info Twitter account go into overdrive; Korda became the youngest American to reach the last 16 since Andy Roddick in 2003, one of only eight players in the past 20 years to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros and Wimbledon before turning 21, and one of only three in the Open Era to do so on debut at both. 

Guiding him as he achieved one of the best results of his burgeoning career?

That would be his father, Australian Open 1998 champion Petr Korda, and Andre Agassi, an eight-time major winner who has been in regular contact with the young American.

“They both just told me to enjoy it,” Korda said.

“I've been talking with Andre for probably about a year now. We started around this time last year. My dad kind of set it up. We had our first call. He's been awesome. We spent 14 days together in Vegas. He welcomed me into his family.

“He has an incredible family. Kind of like ours. Both my parents play tennis. He and Steffi play tennis. He has a son and a daughter who are incredible at baseball. She's a world-class street dancer I'm pretty sure. Our families (Korda’s sisters are top LPGA golfers) are a little bit alike.

“We talk basically every single day, every single match about how I'm feeling, what I should do. 

“But the most important thing he told me yesterday was just to enjoy it. It's your first time on Centre Court at Wimbledon, just enjoy it, embrace it, have a lot of fun.”