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Tunisian Tennis Champion Ons Jabeur Never Forgets Her Roots

The Tunisian tennis champion Ons Jabeur is a hero in her homeland, and not only for her many achievements in her sport. Dubbed “the minister of happiness” by fans, Jabeur takes pride in her country, celebrating its culture and supporting humanitarian causes there.   

Her Tunisian sponsor, the IT firm Talan Tunisie, donated 100 euros towards renovating a high school in a neglected region of Tunisia every time she played her trademark drop shot during the Wimbledon tournament this month.

Jabeur had reached the final of the British Grand Slam event for the second year in a row before losing again, this time to the Czech player Marketa Vondroušová.

Apart from her sponsor’s generosity, Jabeur herself is known for supporting charities in Tunisia. Last summer she donated two or her racquets for auction, raising $27,000 for Tunisian hospitals struggling with a surge of Covid-19 cases because of a shortage of oxygen, staff, and intensive care beds.

A Career with Many Firsts

Jabeur has won many titles in women’s tennis. She became the first Arab player to reach the quarterfinals of a major tournament in 2020, at the Australian Open, and the first to win a professional tournament, the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) Viking Birmingham Classic, in the United Kingdom, the following year.

Then came a string of firsts in 2022, when she became the first Arab among the top ten in the world rankings, reaching No. 2; the first to win a WTA 1000 event, the Madrid Open; and the first to reach the final of a Grand Slam tournament, at Wimbledon. She also reached the final of the U.S. Open and won her second major title, the Berlin Open, that year.

Jabeur missed four tournaments through injury this year but returned to thrill her fans again with her run at Wimbledon.

Love of Tunisian Culture

Jabeur has a joyful presence on court and never forgets her roots. After winning the Berlin Open title in June 2022, she persuaded the DJ to play music by the Tunisian rapper Balti.

Before the Wimbledon tournament that year, she wrote in a column for BBC Sport: “I love the big stage. I’m a little bit of a show-off. I love to connect with the crowd.”

 Wimbledon’s Facebook page praised Jabeur’s performances by publishing a verse by a Tunisian poet that plays on the Arabic word Ons, which means joy in English: “Your breeze greeted me ’til it almost revived me, O Tunisia of Joy, O verdant fields.”

An Inspiring Mother

Jabeur was born in the eastern coastal city of Ksar Hellal in 1994, the youngest of two boys and two girls. She credits her mother, Samira, with launching her career. “My mother was my inspiration. She’s a big fan of tennis and she used to take me to a tennis club when I was 3. She played with her friends, and I would comment.” 

“I used to spend all day happy at the tennis club, to the point where I used to forget to eat,” she added. “I once told Mom that one day, she would be drinking coffee watching me at Roland-Garros,” the French Open.

Jabeur’s path to championship tennis began in the coastal governorate of Sousse, in the east of Tunisia, where she was coached by Nabil Mlika at a tennis promotion centre at her school and played on courts at tourist hotels before moving to the Hammam Sousse Club. “I played at hotels because there were no tennis clubs,” she said.

“After participating in local tournaments and achieving good results, I participated in the first international tournament in Paris when I was 10. At the age of 13, I went to Tunis to train and study at the same time,” she said.

Mlika, who accompanied her for ten years until she was 13, remembers discovering a unique talent with a distinctive personality who was “determined to stand out” over other girls and boys as well.

“She had great control over the ball, to the point where other coaches tried to attract her to handball,” he told Agence France-Presse in an interview last year. “Indeed, Ons seriously thought about switching sports, but decided to stick to tennis.”

A Tunisian ‘Roger Federer’

Omar Laabidi, another Tunisian tennis pro who trained alongside Jabeur as a youth at Hammam Sousse and at a state-backed sports academy in Tunis, told the French news agency that even then, it was clear that Jabeur was destined for greatness. “We used to call her Roger Federer,” after the Swiss tennis legend, he said.

Laabidi remembered one training match against her in particular. “She hit a drop shot that I tried to return but I fell and broke my arm. Since then, she calls me ‘Khubaizah’ (‘the defeated one’ in the Tunisian dialect).”

Jabeur’s first international success was winning the women’s junior championship at the French Open in 2011, when she was 16. “But I suffered a lot moving from the women’s junior category to professional tournaments,” she has said.

Jabeur is a fan of Tunisian football club Etoile Sportive du Sahel and Spain’s Real Madrid. Her former French coach Bertrand Perret once said, “If she could replace tennis practice with football, she would be the happiest.”

‘Queen of the Drop Shot’

Jabeur has been married since 2015 to Karim Kamoun, a former fencer and her current fitness trainer, and is coached by Issam Jellali, a former Tunisian tennis player.  

Mlika, her childhood coach, said: “She hates playing at one pace. She is always trying to create a spectacle by diversifying the game with shots that surprise her opponents, especially with drop shots. She is really the queen of the drop shot.”

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