Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur returns the ball against Germany’s Tatjana Maria during their women’s singles semi final tennis match on the eleventh day of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 7, 2022. (AFP)
LONDON – Ons Jabeur became the first African woman in the Open era to reach a Grand Slam singles final on Thursday when she defeated close friend Tatjana Maria in the Wimbledon semi-finals.
The 27-year-old world number two from Tunisia triumphed 6–2, 3–6, 6–1 and will face Elena Rybakina in Saturday’s championship match.
Russian-born Rybakina, representing Kazakhstan, knocked out 2019 champion Simona Halep 6–3, 6–3.
“I’m a proud Tunisian woman standing here,” said Jabeur, who was the first Arab player to make a Slam semi-final.FEATURED STORIES
Before Thursday, South Africans Irene Bowder Peacock, at the 1927 French Open, and Renee Schuurman, in the 1959 Australian Open, were the only African women to have reached a Slam singles final.
“It’s a dream come true from years of work and sacrifice. I’m happy that’s paid off and I’ll continue for one more match,” said Jabeur.
“Physically, Tatjana is a beast, she doesn’t give up — I thought she would give up — her touch, her serve and everything on the court is impressive. I hope she continues this way. Let’s not play again, I’m good for now.
“I know in Tunisia they are going crazy right now. I want to see more Arab and African players on the tour. I love the game and I want to share the experience with them.”
Jabeur coasted through the first set against mother-of-two Maria with breaks in the third and seventh games.
The Tunisian fired 15 winners to her opponent’s six in the first set while not facing a single break point.
However, Maria, described by Jabeur as her “barbecue buddy”, did manage to finally break through for 3–1 in the second set off the back of a series of delicate slices.
Jabeur’s 17 unforced errors in the second set compared to the six of the more accurate German, who levelled the contest.
But there was to be no upset win as the 103rd-ranked Maria’s challenge was quashed.
Jabeur secured a double break for a 5–0 advantage before securing her place in history on a second match point.
Rybakina overpowered former champion Halep, breaking the Romanian four times in a dominant display on Centre Court.
“It was really good — today I was mentally prepared and did everything I could and it was an amazing match,” said the 23-year-old.
“I think it’s going to be a great match (against Jabeur). She’s a great player, very tricky player. It’s not going to be easy to play against her drop shots and volleys.”
Former world number one Halep had not lost a set coming into Thursday’s match but was immediately under pressure against the big-serving 17th seed.
Rybakina, who stands six feet (1.84 metres) tall, raced into a 3–0 lead with an early break of serve and had break points in all of Halep’s service games in the first set.
Halep, seeded one place above her opponent, did well to stay in touch but failed to carve out any break points of her own in the first set.
Rybakina, the first woman representing Kazakhstan to reach a Grand Slam semi-final, showed no mercy at the start of the second set, breaking again to establish an iron grip.
Halep broke to love in the fourth game to establish a foothold but a double fault in the following game handed the initiative back to her opponent.
Rybakina, the ace leader in the women’s tournament, sealed an impressive win on her first match point with a backhand winner down the line to break Halep again, wrapping up the match in 76 minutes.
The 23-year-old switched her nationality to Kazakhstan in 2018 to take advantage of greater financial help.
Russian and Belarusian players were banned from this year’s Wimbledon following the invasion of Ukraine.
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