Ons Jabeur digs deep to battle past Aryna Sabalenka into Wimbledon final | Wimbledon 2023

new balance

Slightly less than a year after her unforgettable trailblazing run to her maiden grand slam final, Ons Jabeur was forced to relive the joy, hope and eventual pain of that fortnight once more. As she and her husband, Karim, watched the episode of Netflix’s Break Point that chronicled her run, they both cried. The wounds were still fresh, the pain still with her; she would have to return this year to win it all.

True to her word, Jabeur has found her way back to the Wimbledon final with an immense showing of grit and self-belief. After trailing the best player in the world this year by a set and 2-4, the Tunisian again dug into the depths of her spirit and found the strength to recover. Jabeur, the sixth seed, returned to the final with an incredible 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 win over the world No 2, Aryna Sabalenka.

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A year after becoming the first Arab player and the first African woman to reach a singles grand slam final, she will again play for her first major title as she faces Marketa Vondrousova in Saturday’s final. After also reaching last year’s US Open final, it will be the 28-year-old’s third grand slam final in the last five events.

Sabalenka, meanwhile, had arrived on Centre Court a win away from usurping Iga Swiatek to become the new world No 1. Instead she suffered a second grand slam semi-final collapse in as many months after her brutal loss to Karolina Muchova at the French Open.

While last year’s Wimbledon had presented a great opportunity for Jabeur, with no top 30 opponents, she returned to the All England Club having been handed perhaps the toughest draw possible with three title favourites in her way.

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Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka embrace after their Wimbledon semi-final.
Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka embrace after their thrilling semi-final at Wimbledon. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

After edging past Bianca Andreescu in three sets, Jabeur demolished an in-form Petra Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion. Against Elena Rybakina, a rematch of last year’s final, she played perhaps the best match of her life. Her reward for such a tough run of matches was a fourth grand slam champion and the most successful player this year.

Still, Jabeur picked up where she left off, striking the ball smoothly while taking every opportunity to attack one of the biggest hitters in the world. She made Sabalenka so uncomfortable throughout the first set, thumping forehands, forcing her into tricky positions with excellent slice, and she also kept her number of unforced errors low.

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Each time Sabalenka was under pressure, she responded. The Belarusian found enormous serves at key moments, and overpowered Jabeur off the ground every time she threatened to take control. From 2-4 down in the tiebreak, she breezed through five of the last six points to take the set. Then she seemed to relax, taking a 4-2 lead in the second set.

But Jabeur refused to go quietly, throwing herself at every point. She refused to move from the baseline, continuing to impose herself and unload on forehands. As she served and played brilliantly, the pressure on her opponent increased and the errors began to flow. From 2-4 down, Jabeur breezed through the final four games to force a third set.

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The momentum carried into the final set, with Jabeur serving brilliantly and playing clear-minded attacking tennis as she held serve comfortably. Sabalenka, meanwhile, struggled to keep her errors down. At 3-2 to Jabeur on Sabalenka’s serve, after a long, arduous game, Jabeur snatched the decisive break by drawing out errors with her wicked slice. With the finish line suddenly in sight, she served out the match to clinch the biggest win of her career and take her place in the final.

After starting the year with hopes of consolidating a breakout 2022 season that saw her reach No 2, this had been a tough season for Jabeur with numerous injuries halting her progress. But still, even as she has been unable to perform at her top level, this season has followed the story of her career: her success has been a product of gradual, consistent growth for more than a decade.

Despite her two grand slam finals in the past 53 weeks, Jabeur has never played as well as she has over the past 11 days. The mental strength and fighting spirit she has shown in these intense, suffocating tussles against the best players in the world have taken her transcendent talents to new levels. She will be the favourite to win her first grand slam title on Saturday.

new balance

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