Jabeur 1 win shy of 1st pro Slam for Arab or African woman

July 9, 2022 GMT
Tunisia's Ons Jabeur reacts after losing a point to Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina in the final of the women's singles on day thirteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Tunisia's Ons Jabeur reacts after losing a point to Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina in the final of the women's singles on day thirteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Tunisia's Ons Jabeur reacts after losing a point to Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina in the final of the women's singles on day thirteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
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Tunisia's Ons Jabeur reacts after losing a point to Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina in the final of the women's singles on day thirteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
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Tunisia's Ons Jabeur reacts after losing a point to Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina in the final of the women's singles on day thirteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Ons Jabeur held up her cellphone for everyone to see her lock-screen photo of the Venus Rosewater Dish, the trophy given to the women’s champion at Wimbledon.

“I did everything since the beginning of the year,” Jabeur said, “to really focus on this tournament. ... But it wasn’t meant to be.”

And then, finding a bit of humor on a disappointing day, she joked that perhaps she should have gone with a picture of the runner-up plate instead.

With a chance to become the first African or Arab woman to win a major tennis tournament in the sport’s professional era, the second-ranked Jabeur could not quite finish the job Saturday. She gave away a lead and lost the final at the All England Club to 23rd-ranked Elena Rybakina 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

“I know that I’m going to come back and win a Grand Slam, for sure,” said Jabeur, a 27-year-old from Tunisia. “This is tennis, and it’s part of it. I have to learn from it, definitely.”

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Jabeur came into the day on a 12-match winning streak, all on grass courts. She had won 22 of her preceding 24 matches overall.

Then came what was a terrific start for her on a sun-splashed Centre Court.

“Maybe the first set, I was too nervous,” Rybakina said. “Of course, Ons, she played well. I needed time to adjust to her game.”

Jabeur read Rybakina’s speedy serves well at the outset and broke to lead 2-1, then turned to face her guest box, jumped and yelled to celebrate. Jabeur threw an uppercut after grabbing the first set. She headed a tennis ball, soccer-style, after one point. She shouted “Yalla!” — Arabic for “Let’s go!” — after another.

“I’m really happy that I’m trying to inspire many generations from my country,” said Jabeur, who noted Saturday was Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s biggest holidays. “I hope they’re listening.”

Jabeur’s generally not one to hide her excitement or joy, with or without a racket in her hand, emblematic of a personality that has earned her the nickname “Minister of Happiness.”

So she chose to focus on the silver lining of the past two weeks rather than the way the fortnight concluded, with a slew of unforced errors over the last two sets and an inability to disrupt Rybakina’s power with her own creative mix of off-speed offerings.

“Almost there, at the last step,” said Jabeur, who slumped in her sideline chair immediately after the runner-up finish. “I’m really a positive person. ... That will give me definitely a lot of confidence.”

Now she looks forward to being feted back home in Tunisia before heading back out on the road for the North American hard-court circuit, which culminates with the U.S. Open, the year’s last Grand Slam tournament. Play starts in New York on Aug. 29.

As for the image stored on her phone?

The plan had been to return a picture of her niece that was there before.

Now, Jabeur said, she’ll consider using a shot of the U.S. Open.

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