Sharada Iyer, Tennis With An Accent
Before their second-round match at Wimbledon, Venus Williams spoke about how Ons Jabeur’s rise through the ranks was an inspiration not only for women from her country and the North African region, but also for women around the world.
“Ons, I would say, is one of my favourite people on tour. Honestly, she’s just breaking down barriers. The first woman from her country to do anything that she’s doing,” Williams said. “I just think you’re going to see a whole other generation of women from North Africa or wherever coming into tennis. It’s going to be allowed to her. I think she’s inspiring so many people, including me.”
Coming from someone who has been an inspiration herself in the 20-odd years she’s been on the tennis tour, these words have a unique gravitas to them. Similarly unique is what Jabeur has been doing on the tour.
The Tunisian’s successes in the past few tournaments make her ascent seem relatively new. This is true in terms of where these results have helped her land in the rankings. Yet, beyond holding implications for her ranking, these victories are part of a bigger story than what we’ve seen in the span of the past few weeks.
Jabeur’s wins as much as her losses are – for want of a better term – the fruits of the labour that has gone into shaping the player she is today. This includes not just her early years trying to learn the game, but also her route through the junior circuit before she turned pro. This is all part of a larger journey in which she has increasingly fulfilled the potential within her.
From this standpoint, Jabeur becoming an inspirational figure is also a reinforcement of the saying, “Good things come to those who wait.”
An example of this is Jabeur’s long wait to win her first WTA title at the Viking Classic in Birmingham in June, at age 26. This title came years after she reached the final of a WTA tournament for the first time. In a “life-coming-full-circle” turn of events, Jabeur won the Birmingham title against Daria Kasatkina, who had beaten her in her maiden final almost four years ago, at the Kremlin Cup. Between these two finals, Jabeur also reached – and lost – the final of the Charleston Open to Astra Sharma in April of this year. Her first final elevated her ranking to a then career-high. Likewise, Jabeur’s latter two finals were significant catalysts for her noteworthy performances at the French Open and Wimbledon.
Her showings at these two separate majors have different implications not only for her career, but also in widening the scope of her ability to inspire others. By reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros, Jabeur showed that she could be consistent in the biggest tournaments. By making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, with victories over former champions Venus Williams and Garbine Muguruza plus major champion Iga Swiatek, she sent a larger global message about her ability to stand on her own.
In a post-pandemic context, women’s tennis has seen quite a few revelations. Newer champions have emerged who are singularly scripting their tales of glory, while the older ones are rewriting the pages of their continuity in a similarly novel manner. There are also figures such as Naomi Osaka who are unfazed to take a stand for social causes – as much on the court as off it – regardless of the consequences they have to face.
In her own way, Ons Jabeur is taking up the cause of tennis – both on and off the court – and amply living up to this responsibility, as though she has always been up for the challenge.
The tennis is the message. The world is her audience. At Wimbledon, that audience watches more closely, making Jabeur’s wonderful performance even more resonant on a global scale.