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Ons Jabeur's year hasn't gone to plan, but she's into the Roland Garros quarterfinals for the first time
Putting injuries and patches of poor play behind her, the Tunisian will face Beatriz Haddad Maia for sport in the final four.
Published Jun 05, 2023
Seventh-seeded Ons Jabeur’s 6-3, 6-1 round-of-16 victory over Bernarda Pera began quite strangely—a first set that featured eight service breaks in nine games. The pattern continued for the first two games of the second set, each player broken.
Then, at last, Jabeur held to go up 2-1—and remained firmly in control, closing out the 63-minute match with an overhead winner.
“I was expecting her to play better, but I played great tennis,” said Jabeur. “I mean, thank God I was able to hold my serve at the end. Yeah, hopefully the game will be better for the next matches.”
Clearly nervous in her first fourth-round appearance at a major, Pera had as bad a serving day as any player can imagine, winning a scant 38 percent of her first-serve points and just one of 17 on her second. Save for the occasional forehand winner, rarely was Pera able to get much traction in the rallies.
Jabeur, nicknamed tennis’ “Minister of Happiness,” displayed a great deal of the creativity that enchants everyone watching—most of all, those scintillating, feathery drop shots that either end the point, trigger an error, or open up the court for a winner.
The victory puts Jabeur in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros for the first time. Given that Jabeur won the juniors at this tournament in 2011, it’s intriguing that while she’s already been to the quarters or better at the other three majors, Roland Garros remained the only one where she’d yet to get that far.
“I was just taking it one match at a time,” said Jabeur, “trying to make it to the second week. Now I'm gonna push more for the next few matches. Yeah, hopefully better than a quarterfinal final here, looking for a semifinal.”
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Jabeur’s year has been marred by physical challenges. First came knee surgery in February. Then, a spring clay-court season that has proven a mixed bag. It began with a title run in Charleston, but then came a calf injury, with Jabeur forced to retire mid-match in the semis of Stuttgart—followed by a withdrawal from Madrid and an opening defeat in Rome.
“For me, being injured was part of my path, how the season would have started here this year,” said Jabeur. “You know, I worked a lot on my mental health and worked a lot on how to manage all this, because I believe there is a lot of injuries are connected to our, you know, emotional part. I'm trying to manage that. You know, the season is still long, so hopefully no more injuries and I can continue in a great path.”
Still, at this point it’s still hard to get a read on Jabeur’s form. In the third round, she labored hard to get past another lefthander, Olga Danilovic, in three sets. Today’s match was heavily flavored by Pera’s inconsistency. But credit to Jabeur for sound preparation and tactical acumen.
“I was ready,” she said, “and I had had actually a tough match with someone who was a lefty, so I was used to it. I actually put some pressure. I took my time. I was not too aggressive, I would say. But I managed to return in a slow way, and that actually disturbed her.”
Given the exceptionally distinct way Jabeur constructs points, no one in tennis is likely more aware of the odd bounces life’s ball can take.
For the third straight time at Roland Garros this year, Jabeur will face a lefthander—in this case, 14th-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia. The Brazilian won a true epic, hours after Jabeur collected her victory, defeating Sara Sorribes Tormo in three hours and 51 minutes, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5.
Jabeur leads the rivalry 2-0, most recently beating Haddad Maia 6-3, 6-0 in the quarterfinals of Stuttgart this April.
In 2022, Jabeur won Madrid and reached the finals in Rome, but at Roland Garros lost in the first round. This year, absent from Madrid and winless in Rome, she’s in the quarterfinals of tennis’ biggest clay court tournament. What a difference a year makes.
Then again, given the exceptionally distinct way Jabeur constructs points, no one in tennis is likely more aware of the odd bounces life’s ball can take.