Ons Jabeur is carrying the hopes of her country and her continent at Wimbledon as she bids to become the first African and Arab woman to win a Grand Slam title.
Tunisian Jabeur has reached the final at the All England Club for the second year in a row, beating major winners Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka along the way.
Unseeded Czech Marketa Vondrousova is her opponent on Saturday and the sixth seed is hoping to make it third time lucky after losing the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open finals last year, when she was dubbed her country’s “Minister of Happiness”.
Jabeur’s exploits have been followed by Tunisians with a passion usually reserved for football.
“Ons made Tunisians happy being our champion and Minister of Happiness. We are proud of her, so I tell her play comfortably and avoid pressure,” Tunisia’s Minister of sports Kamal Daqish told Radio Mosaique.
Jabeur, 28, came from a set and a break down to beat Australian Open champion Sabalenka in the semi-finals on Thursday.
“My joy was doubled with Ons Jabeur reaching the final and me passing the baccalaureate exams,” Mohamed Hedi, 19, told Reuters.
“Ons achieved what was required and was more powerful, focused and disciplined, and took advantage of her opponent’s nerves. God’s will, she will win the title,” he added.
Amine Kerkni, a keen tennis fan, is confident Jabeur can deliver.
“She can fulfill our dream, and she will remain distinguished in a sport that is new to Tunisians,” he said.
Jabeur has often spoken about her desire to inspire girls in Arab and African countries and Ameni Ben Rehouma, 27, said her influence had prompted parents to encourage their children to play tennis.
“Ons is the pride of every Tunisian woman and raised the country’s flag high with her global achievements,” she told Reuters.
Before Jabeur, Tunisians followed the fortunes of Malek Jaziri, who was ranked 42nd in the world in 2019, but never got past the third round of a Grand Slam.
The 39-year-old Jaziri, now retired, believes Jabeur has the game to win the title.
“Ons dominated the match against Sabalenka, thanks to the experience she gained over the last three years,” he told Reuters.
“Ons worked on her weaknesses and her strengths, which gave her a distinct personality from the rest of the players. She is certainly able to achieve her dream at Wimbledon,” Jaziri added.
On paper, Jabeur is the favourite to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish but she will take nothing for granted after losing to Vondrousova, a former French Open runner-up, at this year’s Australian Open and Indian Wells tournament.