Ons Jabeur continues to make history after the Tunisian ousted former Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza at The Championships to reach the round of 16 with a thrilling 5-7 6-3 6-2 victory on her debut on Centre Court on Friday.
It means a lot. Especially so many Arab people watching me and supporting me.But I don’t want the journey to stop here. I want to continue. I’m doing amazing. Hopefully whoever is watching, I hope that so many younger generation are watching, and I can inspire them. Ons Jabeur
It was a dazzling performance by the 26-year old No 21 seed, whose crafty game bemused and outflanked the powerful Spaniard, who was slowly driven to distraction by an opponent giving a masterclass in angles and spins.
“It is [the best day of my tennis career],” said Jabeur on court, after becoming the first Arab woman to reach the second week of Wimbledon and securing a 4th round meeting with No 7 seed Iga Swiatek, who dropped just one game to Irina-Camelia Begu earlier.
“I’m not saying this so you guys come cheer for me in the next round, but this is my favourite Centre Court in the world.
“I’m telling the truth, I swear. The energy is amazing. I’m so, so, so happy.
“[Muguruza] plays unbelievable on grass, everybody knows that. I lost against her last time so this was kind of my revenge here, in a nice way.”
Muguruza was trying to make the last 16 for the first time since her triumphant title run at Wimbledon in 2017, and had experience on her side, but Jabeur won her first title on the grass at Birmingham recently and is fuelled by her desire to make history for Tunisia, North Africa and the Arab world.
She began nervously with a couple of double-faults to drop her opening service game but, from then on, Jabeur gave Muguruza a torrid time over the 2 hour 26 minute duel.
She pulled off a stunning shot around the net post in the second game, one for the show reel, but it was former World No 1 whose clean power game just about prevailed as she managed to take an absorbing opening set lasting an hour.
The two-time Grand Slam champion, however, never looked comfortable trying to solve the Jabeur puzzle and was continually wrong-footed by her wily opponent and forced to chase down numerous drop-shots.
Although Muguruza’s competitive instincts held sway for the first half of the match, she was under almost continuous pressure, and faced at least one break point in 10 of her 14 service games,.
She held on 5 of those occasions and, in total, she saved a staggering 24 out of 29 break points, including 14 out of 17 through the first two sets.
From 3-3 in the second Jabeur began to take control and there was an air of slight desperation about Muguruza, who struggled to figure out what her opponent would do next.
“I had so many opportunities in this match that it’s a little disappointing from my side because I couldn’t convert them,” lamented Muguruza, who had won their only previous clash. “Especially in the second set I felt like I should have dominated more in these moments and take the advantage, and I couldn’t.
“I think grass helps her game. I feel like she’s very comfy. She’s a very talented player.
“She needs to be with confidence to be able to play her game, and right now she is.”
Jabeur went on a 16-point winning spree as she forged ahead at the start of the decider and 2 service breaks put her 5-1 ahead before she served for the match at 5-2.
On her 2 match points, though, she started to feel ill with nerves and was physically sick at the back of the court, just below the Royal Box, before clinching the deal.
“I’m actually having a problem with my stomach. I’ve inflammation,” she explained. “It has been going on for a while. It bothers me probably with the stress, fatigue, everything.
“Sometimes when I drink water, the water doesn’t go through any more. That’s why I get sick.
“Honestly, I don’t want to interrupt the players, so I try to get rid of it and just continue playing. I’m okay though.
“There were a lot of emotions during this match. You can see me getting angry, smiling and laughing. It’s kind of part of my personality here.”
Jabeur, once a keen soccer player, is already a household name back in Tunisia and her progress to the last 16 will create a huge buzz in a country not known for tennis success.
“It means a lot. Especially so many Arab people watching me and supporting me,” she said. “But I don’t want the journey to stop here. I want to continue. I’m doing amazing.
“Hopefully whoever is watching, I hope that so many younger generation are watching, and I can inspire them.”
Elsewhere, on No 1 Court, Russian wildcard Liudmila Samsonova beat American Sloane Stephens, 6-2 2-6 6-4, extending her hot streak on grass to 10 matches and taking her through to the busiest and wildest day in the tennis calendar, Wimbledon’s Manic Monday.
“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,” said the 20-year-old. “I’m practising a lot during my free days.
“I just feel the surface much, much better than at the beginning of the tournament. It’s easier to implement all the tactics that I wasn’t able to implement when I wasn’t feeling comfortable.
“It’s just easier to lead for me and to be aggressive on court and stay focused all the time.”
Samsonova was ranked outside the top 100 in June but she qualified for a grass court tournament in Berlin before going on to defeat the likes of Madison Keys, Victoria Azarenka and Belinda Bencic to land her first WTA title, gaining ranking points, prize money, respect, and belief.
Just an inch under six feet tall, Samsonova has a powerful baseline game and she was always looking to impose herself on the grass by stepping into the court to play her shots.
In the end, it was too much for Stephens, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 2013, who had defeated Czech Petra Kvitova, twice a former champion, in the first round.
After winning the first set, Samsonova couldn’t convert the break points she had against Stephens’ serve in the opening game of the second, which brought about a shift in momentum, with the American going on to take the set and level the match.
Samsonova, though, has a habit of winning matches these days, and she responded by raising her level to take the deciding set, even dealing with the inevitable nerves as she closed it out.
The 22-year-old’s victory continues her rapid ascent over the last 3 weeks, and is projected to improve her ranking further after her 2-hour win over the former World No 3.
Stephens was one of 3 Americans in action on Friday, with Madison Brengle finding no way past Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic, who won 6-2 6-1 while, in the late match of the day, No 23 seed Madison Keys earned her spot in the 4th round with a 7-5 6-3 victory over No 13 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium on No 1 Court.
“I knew points were going to be more difficult,” Keys said, in her post-match press conference. “I knew [Mertens] was going to have a lot of great gets.
“I knew if I could just try to play my game and focus on that and not really get ahead of myself, then good things could happen.”
The players powered through two relatively close sets in just an hour and 15 minutes, routinely rocketing through short points, but it was Keys who came out on top most often, knocking off 29 winners, compared to just 9 from Mertens, who was also undone by 6 double-faults.
Two of Mertens’s double-faults came when she was serving to stay in the first set at 6-5, the second of which handed Keys a set point after which the American converted the first break of the day for either of them.
The second was quite different, as 5 of the first 6 games went against serve, with Keys again coming out of that run with the break advantage, leading 4-2, and the former World No 7 eased home from there, finishing off the match with a backhand winner.
Keys will next face Golubic, with their head-to-head level at 1-1.
“I think [Golubic is] going to be a really difficult opponent,” Keys said. “I think her game is actually very well suited for grass.
“I think at this point everyone is feeling pretty confident in their game and playing at a high level in order to get to this point.
“I’m going to have to just continue to try to focus on my side of the net and do what I can at the highest level.”
Looking at their off-court interests, it is hard to believe that either Mertens or Keys can muster prolonged competitive aggression, let alone display a killer instinct as the 25-year-old Belgian is a gentle-hearted animal lover, who wears a necklace on court to raise awareness of her charitable initiative to save the gorilla population in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while her American opponent is a passionate advocate for her own charity, Kindness Wins.
Keys now has a hat-trick of Grand Slam wins over Mertens, but her victory was more important in heralding what could be the start of the most significant run on the Wimbledon grass since she reached the quarter-finals in 2015, losing to Agnieszka Radwanska.
“I am absolutely beyond happy,” she said. “I think I just played a really great match. This is the first time I’ve ever won on this court.
“Elise gets so many balls back and she is such a great fighter that I knew I had to play at a really high level the entire time and especially after that first set, when the momentum could have swung and changed everything.”