The victorious Saudi coach focuses on the Paris 2024 Olympics

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World number 3 Ons Jabeur ‘can’t wait’ to team up with Serena Williams in doubles

With a third career title under her belt and a new personal ranking of world No. 3, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur has plenty to celebrate after a stellar week in Berlin.

But she will have to wait for any festivities as she quickly focuses on teaming up with Serena Williams at Eastbourne on Tuesday, in preparation for Wimbledon next week.

American legend Williams will make her first competitive appearance in almost 12 months when she takes to the lawns of Eastbourne, where she has chosen to play only doubles, alongside Jabeur.

The 27-year-old knows Serena’s older sister Venus best, who sang her praises last year before the Tunisian beat her en route to the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

Venus and Jabeur have trained together on several occasions, and the seven-time Major champion once described her as one of her “favorite people”.

Jabeur’s previous interactions with Serena have been friendly, but brief, which is why it came as a huge surprise when she got the call last month that the 23-time Grand Slam winner wanted to partner with her. doubles on the grass. event in Eastbourne this week.

“I usually talk more with Venus than with Serena. I feel like there’s a 50% chance that Venus had something to do with it,” Jabeur told Arab News in an interview on Sunday, after having won the title in Berlin.

“It was great, you said yes right away of course. It’s a pleasure that she chose me, it’s incredible. I was having dinner with Ellen Perez (his occasional doubles partner), and I was like, ‘Ellen, I’m not playing doubles with you anymore, it’s gotten serious now. Now I don’t agree to play doubles with someone who has less than 20 Grand Slams.

“It’s awesome, I can’t wait to see her (Serena), and I can’t wait to talk to her, it’s an honor and a pleasure,” Jabeur said.

It’s unclear exactly why Serena chose Jabeur to join her in her comeback tournament, but it could have something to do with the fact that the crafty Tunisian was in great form and is currently ranked No. WTA Finals.

Jabeur has 30 wins so far this season, second only to top-ranked Iga Swiatek, and is one of only three players on the WTA Tour to have won multiple singles titles in 2022.

“Honestly, I don’t know why she chose me, but I’m glad she did. Maybe Venus had something to do with it, maybe she was watching a bit of tennis and that she’s seen a North African girl playing well lately, so maybe that helped. Hopefully she was watching the Madrid final too,” she added.

Jabeur, who made history as the first Tunisian, Arab or African to win a WTA 1000 title when she triumphed in Madrid last month, said: “Honestly, I’m nervous but I’ll try to focus on tennis and maybe I don’t look up to Serena that much because I’m a lot of fun and it’s honestly a huge honor for me to share the court with her and kind of be part of her journey home.

Jabeur has already won two titles from four finals reached this season and the triumph in Berlin came at the right time after suffering a first-round exit at Roland Garros, where she was considered one of the top contenders for the Suzanne Lenglen Cup. . .

While his first defeat in Paris was clearly disappointing, Jabeur didn’t spend too much time dwelling on it.

“I think everything happened for a reason. The French Open was a bit difficult for me, I had to fail and maybe get back up, that’s how I think sometimes, to come back stronger .

“I’m glad I took some time to clear my head. It was the first time I felt so much pressure, so it was a bit difficult to deal with but I’m learning from that, obviously, and I focused on the grass season, to prepare and be here; that was the most important thing, being prepared.

“I took a week off, it helped me recover mentally and we got back to training. It was a bit difficult at the start, but I’m happy to be back even stronger”, a- she added.

In her first grass-court tournament of the season, Jabeur took down tough opponents including French Open runner-up Coco Gauff and Olympic champion Belinda Bencic en route to the trophy in Berlin.

His early exit from Roland Garros gave him the chance to spend more time on the grass before competing on it and the hard work paid off right away.

She said: “I trained on a terrible court in Paris, so it was great to come here to Berlin because the courts are good, so maybe that helped me play well.

“Physically I was ready, I practiced a lot of fitness with Karim (Kamoun, her husband and physical trainer), so that also helped me.

“The confidence and the right pressure of being the No. 1 seed also helped me a lot. And I trained with a lot of great players here, like Bianca Andreescu and Karolina Muchova, and I got to see how I was playing on the training ground, how confident I was, and I think that really helped bring my A-game.”

With a target on her back entering Paris last month after winning Madrid and reaching the final in Rome, Jabeur needed time to adjust to her new position as a true contender at major tournaments. While winning slams has always been her goal, it’s different when her opponents start to see her as a favorite and show up on the court against her ready to play free as the clear underdog.

“Maybe yes, it’s a different kind of pressure. I always try to do that in front of everyone; I think everyone wants to play well in front of me, especially now that I’m in the top 10” , added Jabeur, who became the first Arab player – male or female – to crack the elite rankings last October.

“For a while now, I think everyone wants to get that top 10 win (against me); it’s an extra pressure but I feel like I’m getting used to this pressure. I’m the type of person who likes a bit of pressure because when I’m too loose I don’t play very well so putting pressure on myself and forcing me to do things helps me a lot to play my best tennis. “

At this time last year, Jabeur had just won a first WTA title, on the grass courts of Birmingham, and reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon for the first time in his career, and the second time in a major tournament. .

Ranked 24th in the world at the time, she beat three Grand Slam champions in a row, in the form of Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Swiatek, before falling to Aryna Sabalenka in the round of 16.

She said: “I feel like now I’m a different player. I tolerate pressure much better; put more expectations on me because now if you tell me I’ll be happy with a quarter-final at Wimbledon, I’ll say ‘no, I want to do better’.

“Also, coming into the top 10 is a very different position than being 20 in the world. I think now I’ve played even more games, so the confidence is definitely higher and I can handle a lot. a lot of situations better. Like if you’re standing, or serving for the set, or playing against someone more aggressive, I think I can handle those matches a lot better than before.

Jabeur acknowledges that “it sounds amazing” to hear the words “world number 3” announced before his name, but tries not to get too excited about this last step.

“I don’t even have time to digest all these things, but I’m pretty happy. Honestly, I wasn’t watching the leaderboard and I don’t like watching the leaderboard, but I think it’s all part of the plan and I’m really happy with it,” she added.

She is within touching distance of second-seeded Anet Kontaveit, who is just 170 points ahead of her, but is still a far cry from the ever-dominant Swiatek, who is on a 35-game winning streak and over 4,000. dots in front of both. .

“My goal this season is to catch Iga maybe, I don’t know, let’s try and maybe have a rivalry with Iga; that would be great. I have my eyes on the No. 2 spot for sure” , said Jabeur.

Having learned her lesson from Roland Garros, where she felt a bit exhausted after playing too many matches in the build-up, Jabeur deliberately did not compete on grass the week before Berlin and is looking to get to Wimbledon both mentally and physically. fresh, carried by the fact that her sports psychologist Mélanie Maillard will be with her at the event.

Maillard and the rest of the squad won’t be the only ones backing Jabeur in south-west London next week. Throughout his run in Berlin, the top seed celebrated his victories in front of dozens of Tunisian fans – their football chants echoing through the stadium at every step of the way.

“Allez, aller, forza ragazzi, wahda wahda lel finale” (go, go, go guys, step by step to the final), became a popular song that follows Jabeur from one arena to another around the world , and will no doubt be heard when she steps out for her opening match at Wimbledon.

“They have already invited themselves to Wimbledon, everyone is coordinating to come there,” she added, referring to Tunisian fans who plan to travel from Berlin to London to support her.



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