Jabeur still Tunisia's pride despite Wimbledon loss

Jabeur still Tunisia's pride despite Wimbledon loss
Ons Jabeur is the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final in the modern era.
4 min read
09 July, 2022
Jabeur of Tunisia during the trophy ceremony after losing to Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in the womens singles final of The Championships Wimbledon 2022. [Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images]

Hailing her as the "nation's pride" and "ambassador of happiness", Tunisians remained enthralled with tennis star Ons Jabeur Saturday, celebrating her presence in the prestigious Wimbledon final despite her loss.

Jabeur became the world number two player and then made history as the first African or Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final in the modern era.

Although she missed out on the title at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, she said she'll learn from the experience and can't wait to play in another final.

"I just try to inspire as many generations as I can," she said.

At a cafe not far from the Hammam Sousse tennis club where the 27-year-old began her career, a group of young Tunisian men had been intently watching the match, yelling in excitement at each point she won.

"She's our Tunisian national product," said Safwen Ghairi, a 21-year-old student.

Supporters of Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur watch her final Wimbledon match at a coffee shop in the city of Sousse, her hometown. [(Photo by BECHIR TAIEB/AFP via Getty Images)]

He and his friends had rushed through their traditional Eid al-Adha meal to get to the cafe -- one of the few open on the national holiday which began Saturday -- to watch the match.

Jabeur represents the African continent "and the region at Wimbledon", Ghairi said. "It's a real achievement."

Nation's pride

His friend Zaher Edine Dahman, 27, called Jabeur "our ambassador of happiness".

"The authorities could never match the publicity Ons Jabeur has brought for Tunisia, even if they spent millions," he said.

"We used to dream of a Tunisian player simply qualifying for Wimbledon, and today, Tunisia is at the final," he added.

Her former trainer Nabil Mlika told AFP after the match that Jabeur was "the nation's pride", wishing her luck for the US Open, which begins next month.

Cafe worker Hafedh Amrouni, 25, said that Jabeur had "honoured" the country despite her coming in runner-up.

Her success has been a rare good news story for a North African country mired in economic and political crisis, made more acute by the coronavirus pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine.

On Friday, the country's Sports Minister Kamel Deguiche said celebrations were planned for after Wimbledon and that he wanted to officially award Jabeur the title of "Minister of Happiness", adding: "It's the state's duty to her."

Inspired by her mum 

The youngest of four, born on August 28, 1994 in Ksar Hellal, Jabeur started her career as a child on hotel tennis courts in the nearby resort town of Hammam Sousse.

She has called her mother her inspiration.

"She is a big fan of tennis and took me to a tennis club when I was only three years old," she said in a BBC column.

"My mum used to play with her friends and I used to commentate... I used to spend the whole day there in the tennis club and I loved it," she added.

Jabeur said her mother was not in the crowd to watch her play on Saturday because there "wasn't enough time" for her to apply for a visa.

Jabeur moved to the capital, Tunis, at the age of 12 to train at a highly rated state-backed sports club.

She made a splash on the global scene in 2011, winning the girls' singles at the French Open when she was 16.

She reached the world's top 50 at the Australian Open in January 2020 -- the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final - and has since surged up the rankings.

Her fame has sparked an increased interest in tennis in her home country, and membership levels have skyrocketed at her home club, from 320 in 2018 to more than 700 today.