By Sarafina Napoleon
Sarafina Napoleon is from Nigeria and is a first-year graduate student in Sport Administration at BGSU. As a journalist for 9 years, she brings a wealth of experience and insight to the Maxwell Media Watch.
September 10, 2022
It was yet another win for Africa on September 9th, 2022, when Ons Jabeur booked a US Open final spot, becoming the first African Woman since 1968 to achieve such a feat in the professional era. It’s been a terrific 2022 for the Tunisian, making consecutive Grand Slam finals, but many people are unaware of how the journey started, thanks largely to the scant media coverage she has received. It’s been 17 years of constant hard work, perseverance, and the desire and will to get to the top.
Born in Ksar Hellal, Tunisia, Ons started playing tennis at the age of three and played on the ITF Circuit in 2007. Two years later, in 2009, she made her first junior Grand Slam debut at the US Open but couldn’t get past Britain’s Laura Robson in the first round. She eventually won the Junior Grand Slam title at the French Open in 2011 and became the first North African Woman to win a Grand Slam tournament at the junior level. Then came 2012; at 17, she was handed a wildcard at the Premier 5 Qatar Open in February, where she made her WTA main-draw debut but lost in three sets to No. 103 Virginie Razzano from France.
Considering her struggles at WTA Events at a senior level, it hasn’t been all rosy for Ons. She did qualify for two Grand Slam main draws at the 2014 US Open and 2015 Australian Open but failed to live up to the billing, losing her opening matches at both tournaments. For the first time in 2017, she participated in all four Grand Slam singles events but couldn’t win any of the titles. Her big break came at the French Open, where she won two main draw matches and cemented her place in the top 100 for the rest of the year. In 2017, she competed at all Grand Slam tournaments for the first time in her WTA Career, but she struggled.
A determined Ons kept working hard and digging deep to get to the top, which eventually paid off in 2021 when she won her first WTA Title at the 2021 Birmingham Classic, defeating the Russian Daria Kasatkina in the final. It is also worth mentioning that she got to the Wimbledon championships’ quarterfinals in 2021.
2022 started with the Tunisian playing at the Sydney International where she got knocked out in the quarterfinals. She withdrew from the Australian Open after picking up an injury at the Sydney International. Jabeur lost in the second round of Indian Wells, but got to the fourth round of the Miami Open, reached the final of the Charleston Open, and went on to win the Madrid Open, making her the first African player to win a WTA 1000 title. Then came the Italian Open, where she had a brilliant run. Still, she wasn’t good enough to win it all as she fell to Iga Świątek in the Final; despite losing the Italian Open final, she reached a career-high world No. 6 in May.
The French Open came with many expectations, but she fell out in the first round against Poland’s Magda Linette but made a career-high ranking of world No. 4 in June at the end of the tournament. Wimbledon saw a different Jabeur who went all the way to the final, defeating Mirjam Björklund, Katarzyna Kawa, Diane Parry, and Elise Mertens in the process. The Wimbledon Final came, which was her first Grand Slam final appearance, making her the first African Woman to reach a Grand Slam Singles Final in the Open Era. Sadly, she couldn’t deliver at the biggest stage, losing to Elena Rybakina in three sets which was a bitter pill to swallow as an African, since tennis experts had picked her to win.
Ons Jabeur vs Iga Świątek: A revenge mission?
September 10th, 2022, will be a day to remember for many. Africans and Arabians who are all looking forward with high expectations. Ons Jabeur will be in action, participating in her second Grand Slam Final barely two months after her first final, which she lost to Rybakina. She faces a daunting task against Świątek, who is yet to lose a Grand Slam final. The Polish player has won in both Grand Slam finals she’s played (French Open 2019 & 2022).
Ons Jabeur is one match away from becoming the first African and Arab Woman to win a significant title, and she can achieve this at the 142nd edition of the US Open. To this point, her accomplishments have been overshadowed by the massive coverage of Serena Williams’ retirement and excitement about rising US stars Francis Tiafoe and Coco Gauff.
The big question now is, Can She win? And if she does, will she gain the accolades deserving of a first-time grand slam winner and the first African-Arab Woman to do so?