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Ons Jabeur’s French Open Exit: So Close Yet So Far From the Grand Slam Title

Ons Jabeur’s French Open Exit: So Close Yet So Far From the Grand Slam Title

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Despite a promising start, Ons Jabeur’s pursuit of a Grand Slam title continues after a hard-fought French Open quarterfinal loss to Coco Gauff. 

By Tuka Letura 

“I think if you’re a coward, you will not go and try. I didn’t want to be a coward and I wanted to try, even losing, but taking the loss with pride. That was one thing that I was proud of myself for doing, even though I had a lot of negative thoughts. But it happens, I do accept these negative thoughts and turn them into positive ones.” These were the words of Ons Jabeur, often referred to as the “Minister of Happiness”. The Tunisian tennis player is Africa’s and one of the world’s most renowned names in tennis, and the words echo in her latest self-documentary This is Me, which takes us behind the scenes of the 2023 season. Jabeur has achieved big feats throughout her career, including reaching a career-high ranking of World No. 2 and competing in three Grand Slam finals.

However, despite her numerous accolades, a Grand Slam title has remained elusive, even after three Grand Slam finals. This narrative was underscored again when Jabeur fell to American Coco Gauff in the quarterfinals of the 2024 French Open on the 4th of June, despite winning the first set 6-4. Gauff came back to deliver yet another defeat in straight sets, winning 6-2, 6-3.

Born on August 28, 1994, in Ksar Hellal, Tunisia, Jabeur’s journey to the top has been a story of perseverance and breaking barriers. Her mother, Samira, introduced her to tennis at the age of three, setting up the steps that would see her become a formidable player.  

Her career has seen days of steady progress since her first, when she won the junior title at the 2011 French Open, to 2017 when she participated in all four Grand Slam events for the first time. She has remained in and around the highest points of tennis. 

Nevertheless, she will remember 2022 as her best year. At least for now, depending on whether she succeeds in clinching the grand slam title. During the clay-court season in 2022, she won the Madrid Open by defeating American Jessica Pegula in the finals after getting past Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova and Romania’s Simona Halep in the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively, becoming the first African player to do so. 

Ons Jabeur’s French Open Exit: So Close Yet So Far From the Elusive Grand Slam Title | Afrocritik
Ons Jabeur’s Madrid Open

Jabeur had begun her 2022 season at the Sydney International, defeating Australia’s Astra Sharma and Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitová before withdrawing from the Australian Open due to a back injury. She competed in the Dubai Championships, reaching the quarterfinals before losing to Simona Halep, and then participated in the Qatar Ladies Open, where she again reached the quarterfinals before getting defeated by Estonian Anett Kontaveit. At the Indian Wells Open, Jabeur was upset in the second round by Aussie Daria Saville. She reached the fourth round at the Miami Open and her first final of the year at the Charleston Open in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, losing to Swiss Belinda Bencic.

After her win in Madrid, she followed it up with a runner-up finish at the Italian Open, setting a career-high ranking of world No. 6. However, she was unexpectedly defeated in the first round of the French Open by Poland’s Magda Linette. Despite this, her performance during the clay-court season propelled her to a career-high ranking of world No. 4 in June 2022.  

Back to grass, and only a few weeks after her loss in the French Open, Jabeur won the German Open in Berlin and rose to world No. 3. She partnered with Serena Williams in doubles at the Eastbourne International but withdrew from the semi-finals due to a knee injury. She reached a new career-high ranking of world No. 2 after reaching her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, where she lost to Elena Rybakina, making her the highest-ranked African in tennis history.

In the lead-up to the US Open, Jabeur faced early exits and an injury but regained form to reach the final, where she lost to Polish player, Iga Świątek. She became the first African and Arab woman to reach the US Open final. She then won her first WTA event in Africa, at a tournament in Tunisia, and made her debut at the WTA Finals in Fort Wort, winning one match in three but eventually failed to progress past the round-robin stage after losses to Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sákkari. She ended the year ranked No. 2, marking the best season of her career.

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In 2023 she continued to face both physical and psychological challenges. After a disappointing exit at the Australian Open, where she was upset by Mirra Andreeva in the second round, Jabeur underwent minor surgery on her left knee. Despite returning to action at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, she admitted to being only 80% fit, reflecting the ongoing battle with her physical health.

En route to her second consecutive final at Wimbledon. Jabeur defeated four consecutive Grand Slam winners, including defending champion Rybakina and 2023 Australian Open champion, Aryna Sabalenka. However, the final hurdle proved insurmountable once more as she lost to Czech’s Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets.

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It is a loss she describes in her documentary as the greatest of her career. “It emotionally destroyed me. It’s the tournament that I said, I feel like I’m going to win it, maybe when I win it I could take a break and have a baby. The idea of a baby vanished with the trophy. It’s not done, I can’t finish”. 

Jabeur has truly kept going after this defeat and has continued to try.  Entering the 2024 season, she aimed to put past disappointments behind her and focus on clinching that title. However, her journey at the 2024 Australian Open ended in the second round with a loss to Mirra Andreeva; another early exit from a major tournament. 

At the French Open which kicked off in May, she looked set for a deep run. Her early round matches showcased her strategic play and mental fortitude, traits that have defined her career.  But Gauff’s comeback performance would snuff life out of Jabeur’s attempt. As Jabeur admits, she tried to get back into the game but Gauff was already on and took the advantage. 

In the post-match interview, Jabeur discussed her efforts to get back into the game and how Gauff’s performance took the advantage. She emphasised her determination to learn from the loss and continue striving for success. 

Ons Jabeur’s journey in tennis has clearly been marked by a series of near-misses in her quest for a Grand Slam title. Yet, the pressure and expectations at crucial moments have frequently seen her fall just short of the ultimate prize.

Several factors have contributed to this recurring theme of almost getting there. Handling the mental pressures of a Grand Slam final is a challenge even for the most seasoned players. As she highlighted after the most recent knockout, she will learn from this one, and the general belief is that curtains are further away than they seem for the 29-year-old. 

Tuka Letura is an experienced sports writer with over five years of experience in the craft. He uses data and statistics to provide analysis and commentary. From regional to worldwide competitions, he has covered a wide range of sports-related events and topics. He is devoted to sharing his enthusiasm for sports with his audience and engaging them with interesting anecdotes and viewpoints.

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