Ons Jabeur was the toast of Tunisia and the Arab world with her exploits at this year’s Australian Open where she became the first Arab woman player to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament in the Open era. Her sensational run included wins over Johanna Konta, Caroline Garcia, former champion Caroline Wozniacki and Wang Qiang, before it ended with a straight sets defeat to eventual winner Sofia Kenin of the US. She became a household name in the football-mad country where politicians of every hue made a beeline to congratulate her, describing her as an “inspiration” and a “role model” for young people.
“Every swing of her racquet honours the Tunisian flag,” Tunisian President Kais Saied declared.
But does all this attention put additional pressure on her?
“It’s a good pressure,” Jabeur, the World No. 44, said after beating Czech qualifier Katerina Siniakova 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the second round of the Qatar Total Open at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash complex on Sunday. “I say, it’s a good pressure to play good, especially if the President is interested in what you’re doing and many other political people are following me. “I’m proud of what I’m doing, I hope I can inspire many people and I mean hopefully it could continue because I think it’s just the start of the season. “I put in my mind that I want to be in top 20 and I think I’m on the right track. Most important thing is to improve my game, I see that I’m better with holding the stress or with managing some points, so I think I can really play better and maybe like really, really play and win a good tournament.” Jabeur, 25, even referred to 'All Eyez on Me', an album by rapper Tupac Shakur released in 1996 to highlight the fact that people were watching her. “I know the song, the Tupac one. But I know how to manage the stress. I mean, before I was like not being able to face it, but now I’m facing it. It’s like whatever happens, happens. I’m just there, I’m jumping from a rooftop or something, that’s me, you know, going, going there. “And I know myself, I know my character, if I put something in my mind, I just do it. For me, if I put myself in this position to be one of the best players in the world, then I think it’s going to happen and I have pretty good feeling about this season.” She added that she won’t be making large scale changes to her generally attacking style of play. “It’s part of my game. I love to put some spice into this game and I think it’s really good to do that. Otherwise it could be boring just hitting the ball. It’s not me, so I go along with any drop shot, with any passing shot. That’s me, that’s my game and hopefully I can do more.” For the moment though she is enjoying every bit of the attention she is getting. “I know that I did great in Australia, I know many people watched me. So I’m really happy that they made the effort and they’re following me more. “Also my parents are here. They don’t come often so I had to really put extra effort to play better here. They didn’t come to Dubai, but at least seeing them on the court in my box it was a really incredible feeling.” Jabeur is yet to win a title on the WTA Tour – a runner-up finish in 2018 in Moscow being her best show so far. But with a steadily improving game and plenty of support from home, it won’t be much of a surprise if she scales that barrier this year.Last updated: February 25 2020 08:43 PM