Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur's trailblazing took her all the way into the Wimbledon 2022 final after triumphing 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 over Tatjana Maria in a 1-hour, 43-minute semifinal clash, here on Thursday.
With the win, Jabeur becomes the first Tunisian, first Arab and first African woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era.
Ever since cracking the Top 50 in February of 2020, she has been setting records for her country and region. Having won 22 of her past 24 matches, the 27-year-old has given herself the opportunity to go for the biggest milestone of all.
"It is a dream come true after years and years of work and sacrifice.I'm really happy it is paying off and now there is one more match to come," said Jabeur.
"I'm a proud Tunisian woman here today and I know in Tunisia they are going crazy right now.I try to inspire as much as I can and I want to see more Arab and African players on the tour," she added.
Before Jabeur, the only Tunisian to reach the Top 100 of the WTA rankings was Selima Sfar, who peaked at No 75 in July 2001. Jabeur became the first player from her country to reach a WTA final at Moscow 2018 to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2020 Australian Open, and to crack the Top 50 a month later, to win a WTA title at Birmingham 2021, paving the way for a Top 10 debut in October last year.
This season began on a negative note for Jabeur when she was forced to pull out of the Australian Open due to a back injury. But since returning in February, she has gone from strength to strength.
Her overall 2022 record is 36-9, including final appearances in five of her last seven events and titles in two of them, Madrid on clay and Berlin on grass. Including the latter, Jabeur is now on her second 10-match winning streak of the year.
Jabeur will now face Simona Halep or Elena Rybakina in Saturday's showpiece. On the other hand, the 34-year old Maria leaves Wimbledon having made history of her own.
The No 103-ranked German was the oldest first-time Grand Slam semi finalist in the Open Era, the first mother-of-two to make the last four of a major since Margaret Court at Wimbledon 1975 and only the fourth player ranked outside the Top 100 to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.
Though two delightful volleys helped Maria escape three break points in the first game of the match, Jabeur went on to dominate the opening set by keeping Maria at bay on return. The World No 2 broke Maria for 2-1 and again for 5-2 with a terrific pass, and did not face a breakpoint herself.
In the second set, Maria lured Jabeur into playing the game on her own terms. It made for some breathtaking shotmaking, particularly an absurd sliced forehand pass by Jabeur from a seemingly impossible position. But with points being decided by cat-and-mouse play more often than not, Maria's foothold in the match grew stronger. She broke for 3-1 with a winning dropshot, and maintained that lead to the end of the set.
Maria's second-set momentum had also been based around strong serving -- she had only lost three points behind her first delivery. That number fell to 44 per cent in the decider, and Jabeur took full advantage to take back control.
Abandoning the cutesy exchanges that had characterised the second set, Jabeur resumed her first-strike intent to run away with the third. A jumping backhand winner to seal the first hold signalled her intent; another terrific pass to break for 2-0 underlined it.
A terrific three-deuce tussle in the fourth game was essentially Maria's last stand, and she ultimately conceded the double break after mis-hitting a volley way over the baseline.Three games later, Jabeur served out the match with little fuss, sending down a service winner on her second match point to wrap up a historic win.