Wimbledon | Jabeur upsets Sabalenka to reach second final in a row

Aryna Sabalenka had looked to be a shoe-in for the Wimbledon title when World No 1 Iga Swiatek lost to Elena Svitolina in the quarter-finals, but one Ons Jabeur, the 6th seed from Tunisia, has had her eyes set on lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday since losing out last year, and sent the Belarusian packing in The Championships semi-final.

For me it was just one serve, one game. I just wanted to try to break her. It was very difficult for me to return her serve. Especially if she was mixing a lot. Even the speed was difficult. I was, like, honestly ... I'm just going to go in and hit my return. It was coming. I was returning much better. She missed some shots that did help me stay in the game. I was fighting every point. We just wait for a little bit of chance sometime to get the game, and that's what happened. Ons Jabeur

Jabeur believes the lessons she learned in two Grand Slam final defeats will stand her in good stead for Saturday’s Wimbledon show-down with unseeded Czech Marketa Vondrousova.

“Last year was my first final of a Grand Slam,” Jabeur said. “Definitely getting closer to winning the Grand Slam that I always wished.

“I would say I always believed. But sometimes you would question and doubt if it’s going to happen, if it’s ever going to happen.

”I’m going to learn a lot from, not only Wimbledon’s final, but also the US Open final and give it my best. Maybe this year was all about trying two times and getting it right the third time.”

With a 17-2 match record in the Grand Slams in 2023, Sabalenka was looking to end Swiatek’s 66-week stay as No 1, but now needs to wait a while to usurp the 22-year old Pole at the top of the rankings, which she would have done had she reached the final.

The loss to Jabeur leaves her just 6 points adrift in that quest, after the Tunisian out-duelled her, 6-7(5) 6-4 6-3, on Thursday evening, needing 2 hours and 19 minutes to secure the win.

Aryna Sabalenka, the 2nd seed, lead by a set and a break, when her game unravelled against Ons Jabeur on the Centre Court in the Last 4

© Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Jabeur’s way in the semi-final unfolded in a similar manner as her quarter-final encounter with Russian-born Kazakh Elena Rybakina, having lost the first set in the tiebreak by the same 7-5 score before capturing the latter two sets, 6-4 6-1.

While Rybakina, the defending champion, took advantage of Jabeur’s serve to go up a break twice in the first set, Sabalenka was mostly unable to get to deuce on her serve, and only in the second game of the set did the Tunisian face a break point, but an unforced error from the Belarusian erased it just as quickly as it had appeared.

Jabeur also dominated with her returns, pushing Sabalenka to deuce on her deliveries more often than not.

Sabalenka was just 2 games away from victory, though, leading in the opening 7-6(5), 4-2 before allowing Jabeur to stage a remarkable come-back to win.

During her post-match press conference, Sabalenka admitted that she wasn’t at her best during the match, and had felt a little nervous.

“Overall, I didn’t play my best tennis today,” the Belarusian said. “It was just, like, combo of everything. A little bit of nerves, a little bit of luck for her at some points. Sometimes I didn’t expect that much lines.”

Ons Jabeur, the 6th seed, turned the tables on Aryna Sabalenka to reach her second Wimbledon final in a row

© Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Jabeur faced 3 break points across the 12 service games she played, although she did well to save them all, and eventually, in the tiebreak, the No 6 seed led 4-2 with a mini-break, but Sabalenka bounced back to turn the set around.

The World No 2’s momentum lasted until the 8th game of the second set where, trying to serve for a 5-3 lead over her opponent, her serve and her game unravelled.

After having broken Jabeur in the 5th game in what was the first break of serve of the match, Sabalenka handed it back, and the 28-year-old Tunisian won 4 straight games in the middle set, garnering a second break of the Belarusian serve, which came in the 10th game to give the 6th seed the chance to level proceedings.

In the deciding set, Sabalenka dropped her serve on the 3rd break point she faced, and Jabeur maintained the lead long enough to serve out the match to 30 in the 9th game of the set.

She needed 5 match points, though, to seal her victory, and Sabalenka saved 2 on her serve in the 8th game, and after 2 more passed Jabeur by from 40-0 up in the last game, the Tunisian hammered down an ace to seal the win in 2 hours and 19 minutes.

The ace was her first of the set, and just her 3rd of the match, countering Sabalenka’s 10.

“For me it was just one serve, one game,” Jabeur said. “I just wanted to try to break her.

“It was very difficult for me to return her serve. Especially if she was mixing a lot. Even the speed was difficult. I was, like, honestly … I’m just going to go in and hit my return. It was coming. I was returning much better.

“She missed some shots that did help me stay in the game. I was fighting every point. We just wait for a little bit of chance sometime to get the game, and that’s what happened.”

Jabeur has now reached 3 Grand Slam finals in her last 5 attempts, and has had to do it the hard way by beating Sabalenka, Rybakina and two-time champion Petra Kvitova, amongst others to become the first woman since Serena Williams to beat 3 Top 10 players at the same Wimbledon.

Aryna Sabalenka was sent packing, losing her shot at the No 1 ranking and a slot in the final

© Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Sabalenka, the World No 2 finished the match with more winners and unforced errors than Jabeur, with 39 to 28, but her 45 unforced errors far out-weighed the latter’s 14.

The Belarusian fell agonisingly short of becoming only the second Belarusian player in history to become World No 1, and later she was asked if this had affected her on court.

“I wouldn’t say that I was thinking about that,” she told the press. “For me it’s more about how you finish the year than during the year you’re first, second, you just go back and forth.

“For me it’s more about finish the year. I’ll keep pushing myself and do everything I can to finish this year as World No 1,” she added.

The 25-year-old praised Jabeur for her impressive display, and vowed to be mentally tougher next time around.

“I mean, she played unbelievable tennis and I didn’t play the way I supposed to play,” Sabalenka said. “I’ll just keep working, keep pushing myself. Hopefully next time mentally I’ll be tougher in the semi-finals.

“I can’t complain about my results this year! It’s definitely one of the best years so far. I mean, I can’t complain about my results this year, to be honest.

“The far you go, the more you want. It’s still tough to, yeah, recover after these kind of matches.”

This defeat is Sabalenka’s 5th loss at the Last 4 stage, and she is now aiming for a better result at the upcoming US Open.

“What do I expect at the US Open? Well, just do better. If I get to the semi-finals, just do better than I did in the last semi-finals,” she said.

Ukraine's Ambassador to Britain, Vadym Prystaiko (L) and his wife Inna Prystaiko watched the first semi-final but left the Royal Box in protest when Belarusia's Aryna Sabalenka played Ons Jabeur

© Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, in Saturday’s final, it is Jabeur who will be facing the left-handed Czech, Vondrousova, the French Open runner-up in 2019 and Olympic silver medallist, to whom she has already lost twice this year.

Jabeur will have the Arab world and the continent of Africa rooting for her, after the trail-blazer stormed though the field to emulate her run last year.

“I think this year the draw is much tougher,” she said. “Playing against amazing players that not only play good on any surface, but they play amazing on grass. That was very challenging.

“That gives me more confidence to be ready for the final. Also getting that rhythm of playing great tennis to be ready for the next match.”

Jabeur is immensely popular with the fans, something she greatly appreciates.

“Thank you very much for believing in me,” she told the Centre Court crowd. “I’m working a lot with my mental coach about this. I might be writing a book about it!

“I’m very proud of myself because, maybe, the old me would have lost this match today, and I would’ve been back home already. I’m finding the strength.”

Jabeur’s all-time record is 3-3 against Vondrousova, including a win in their only grass-court meeting, but the lefty was a winner at the Australian Open and in Indian Wells.

“For me, I’m going to learn a lot from not only Wimbledon’s final but also US Open final and give it my best,” Jabeur said. “Maybe this year was all about trying two times and getting it right the third time. So let’s see.

“I’m going for my revenge. I didn’t win against her this year. She has good hands. She plays very good.

“Honestly, I will try to focus on myself a lot. I’m not sure how she’s going to play second Grand Slam final, I believe. We both hungry to win. Whoever deserve it more will win.”

As an aside, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Britain, Vadym Prystaiko, who was in the Royal Box for the semi-finals, refused to watch the Sabalenka/Jabeur match, and left his seat before it started.

Prystaiko was seen in the Royal Box for Elina Svitolina’s crushing defeat by Vondrosouva, but did not stay to watch Sabalenka because her native Belarus is a close ally of Russia, and has supported their invasion of Ukraine.

Politics is never far away from tennis these days, and Wimbledon officials will, no doubt, be relieved that neither finalist has links to either Russia or Belarus, this year, thus sparing the Princess of Wales any fallout in presenting the trophy on Saturday.



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