Ons Jabeur exacted her revenge on Elena Rybakina for her Wimbledon final loss last year, with the Tunisian out-duelling the defending champion representing Kazakhstan, 6-7(5) 6-4 6-1, in the quarter-finals on Centre Court, watched by Her Majesty Queen Camilla on Wednesday afternoon.
Sabalenka? The best players on grass were present in our side of the draw. I will only think about the semi-final for now. I will not change my style of play against another opponent who shoots very hard. It will be a very difficult match. I will do my best to take advantage of my opportunities. Ons Jabeur
“I’m happy to have won this time,” Jabeur told the press afterwards. “It’s fantastic. Crazy and difficult game. But I’m happy to have won this time.
“It was really tough. A player like Elena forces you to change game plan several times, but I’m glad I stayed true to my coach.There were difficult moments, when Elena put a lot of pressure on me.
“I transformed anger into positive energy and was able to focus.
“What has changed compared to last year? The experience. Taking on certain matches helps you deal with difficult situations. I have more confidence in myself, I hit the ball better.”
Jabeur wishes she could swap her Wimbledon revenge win for victory over Rybakina in last year’s final, and she could very well lift the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday, providing she can overcome World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka in Thursday’s semi-final to give herself a shot in the final.
Seeking her first Grand Slam title, Jabeur not only lost at Wimbledon, but also in last year’s US Open final to Iga Swiatek, but she says she is a different player now.
“I don’t regret last year,” she said. “I believe, last year, I wasn’t ready to play this kind of match. It happened for a reason.
“I have learned a lot from the final. Definitely very proud of myself for the improvement that I did mentally, physically, and with the tennis racket.”
Last year, Jabeur took the first set before losing 3-6 6-2 6-2, but this year she employed a more aggressive game style to seal victory.
“When we entered the court, I felt a similar feeling of playing the same match against her,” she said. “I went for the other seat [on court] that I used last year. Maybe it’s the seat that made me win today.”
Before the match, Jabeur spoke about wanting to stick 100% to the game plan after disappointment last year.
Against a player known for her powerful shot-making and ballistic serve, Jabeur went on the front foot more often, with the 6th seed striking 35 winners to Rybakina’s 21.
“I said I am going for my shots because, if you try to go easy with her, it is not going to work,” Jabeur explained. “It is not easy playing her, but I wish we could exchange this match for the finals last year.”
In the first set, Jabeur came from 1-3 down to level, and took advantage of a loose volley at the net from Rybakina to break again to edge into a 6-5 lead, when she served for the opener.
She held a set point, but Rybakina broke her, and won 3 points in a row from 3-3 in the ensuing tiebreak to steal the set.
Grabbing the momentum, Rybakina looked to be acquiring control of the match, holding from 0-40 in the second game of the second set, and she then had 3 break points against Jabeur’s serve at 2-2, but the Tunisian held firm.
Jabeur was forced to dig deep on her serve to move into a 3-2 lead, before both held until the 10th game, when Rybakina effectively cracked.
The Tunisian earned her 4th break point after firing 3 forehand winners to get to 15-40, and converted before riding out the set to level.
“Especially after losing first set, I didn’t care. I went for every shot,” she said. “The way I played, I felt so free on the court. The coach said I followed the plan 70%, which is a high percentage.”
Jabeur won the first 3 games of the decider, with both her service holds going to deuce, and, after Rybakina held from 0-30 down to get herself on the board, the Tunisian stifled the only chance the Kazakh had from then on with a crucial hold from 15-40 down to extend her lead to 4-1.
The force was with her now, as Jabeur powered a backhand down the line to break once again, and held her serve to seal the win.
The 28-year-old, who became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final last year, will face Sabalenka for a place in Saturday’s title match at the All England Club.
The Belarusian 2nd seed dismissed Madison Keys, 6-2 6-4, in 87 minutes, overpowering the American 25th seed on No 1 Court.
Sabalenka leads the head-to-head with Jabeur, 3-1, including a straight-sets win in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2021, and the Tunisian is going into Thursday’s match with a similar mindset that she had against Rybakina.
“I’m going to try my best to stay focused, and take every opportunity,” Jabeur said. “Aryna is more emotional than Elena, so, maybe, it could be a good or bad thing, I’m not sure. But let’s see tomorrow.
“I’m going to prepare and take my revenge from two years ago.”
The Tunisian is a fan favourite all around the world, and especially at Wimbledon.
“Thank God they are never against me,” she said. “I receive many messages. I haven’t talked to my family yet, but I am everyone is very happy. I know they are following the tournament and I hope this time it can be even better. I want to make Tunisians and all Africans proud.
“Sabalenka? The best players on grass were present in our side of the draw.
“I will only think about the semi-final for now. I will not change my style of play against another opponent who shoots very hard. It will be a very difficult match. I will do my best to take advantage of my opportunities.”
Jabeur is on her own roll, becoming the first woman since Serena Williams to reach consecutive Wimbledon semi-finals, in 2018 and 2019.
The Tunisian’s skill-set turned the tables on the powerful Rybakina, displaying her immense tenacity to get the win after the Russian-born Kazakh faltered.
Later, Rybakina acknowledged Jabeur’s good play, but also blamed her own serve for not working particularly well.
“Well, for sure she was making better decisions from the court than last year, I would say,” she told the media. “I also had a lot of opportunities this time, especially in the second set.
“I felt that my serve wasn’t that great. I would say the percentage – I didn’t see the statistics yet – but, I think, since it’s my weapon, and it was not working that well.
“But definitely she was playing good today, especially in some important moments, so that made difference.
“Yeah, I think she was returning really well. But, as I said, my percentage of the serve was not the greatest.
“Maybe I hit a few really powerful serves, but not good placement. Also I was not really changing direction. Yeah, I mean, she returned really well few moments, and she was really stable, and she was going for some shots.
“Definitely this match she was playing well, especially in important moments,” Rybakina concluded.
Jabeur, who brings so much joy to Tunisians, Africans, Muslim women, and fans everywhere, with her variety and wit, is a sharp contrast to the placid, and imperturbable Rybakina.
She now faces a complete opposite type of opponent in Sabalenka, whose volcanic personality bubbles under the surface of an explosive game, and anything can happen.