Ons Jabeur ended her good friend Tatjana Maria’s magical Wimbledon career and was one win away from creating her own fairy tale story at the All England Club.
Jabeur overcame an entertaining match on center court 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 to stay on course to become the first woman from an Arab country and the African continent to win a Grand Slam.
The third seed proved too good for Maria in the end, but the mother of two went down fighting after taking her remarkable 35th major appearance to its conclusion at the semi-final stage.
Maria had never reached the second week of a Grand Slam before this summer and only gave birth last April, but lost to first-time runner-up Jabeur, who the 34-year-old is likely to root for to win the showpiece. of Saturday.
The duo’s friendship was well-documented, but there was a noticeable lack of eye contact between the “barbecue friends” before they stepped onto center court.
It was their fourth meeting, but the first since 2018 and a lot had changed since then, with Jabeur ranked second in the world and Maria now the mother of Cecilia as well as eight-year-old Charlotte.
Eight was the number of minutes it took for Maria to make her first service game in a clear indicator of how difficult a task she faced if she wanted to continue her dream career at SW19.
Jabeur would eventually break on her fifth hit and another followed in game seven, in which the Tunisian produced a drop shot on the spin that Maria returned to huge applause from a crowd of nearly 15,000.
Back-to-back aces helped the highest seed remaining in the competition take the opener in 38 minutes to move a set away from the final.
Maria was no stranger to being behind in the Championship, with four of her five matches going to a third set and three of them lasting more than two hours.
Those trademark powers of recovery were on full display at the start of the second as he rallied to hold from 15 to 40 before finally earning a first break point on Jabeur’s serve.
It took almost an hour for the German to do the same against compatriot Jule Niemeier in the quarterfinals, but history repeated itself when the third seed broke in the fourth game of the second set after a wonderful exchange of dropshots and slices. .
A double fault almost got Jabeur back in right away, but the supreme defensive skills of Maria, who was making some exceptional throws with her back against the wall, made for another key hold.
Despite a first set point coming and going, largely thanks to Jabeur’s brilliance at the net, World No.103 Maria forced a decider after one of her most comfortable service games.
A heavy weight of anticipation had been on Jabeur’s shoulders for a long period of time, but so far he had handled the pressure flawlessly at the All England Club and he has done so again.
The 27-year-old had exchanged text messages with Morocco’s Hicham Arazi ahead of her round of 16 tie on Tuesday with Arazi, a four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, begging him to break the duck of players from Arab countries who couldn’t make it. to the semifinals. older
Jabeur delivered on that occasion and found his best tennis at a critical moment here.
A two-handed backhand winner with both feet off the turf showed she was ready to fight and when Maria double-faulted midway through the next game, Jabeur smelled blood.
A glorious forehand down the line secured a decisive break and a second followed to send the Tunisian to a first Grand Slam final.
Jabeur was magnanimous in victory and made sure her friend Maria shared the cheers at the end after the two hugged at the net.
“I want to say that it is a dream come true after years and years of work. I’m very happy that it’s worth it and I’m still going for one more match now”, said the Tunisian on the pitch.
“I definitely wanted to share the moment with Tatjana at the end because she is such an inspiration to a lot of players, including me coming back after two babies. I still can’t believe how she did it.”