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Tennis-Tunisia’s Jabeur Still on Mission to Capture First Grand Slam

(Reuters) – Ons Jabeur promised “not to give up” after three failed attempts to win a Grand Slam final and Tunisia’s ‘Minister of Happiness’ hopes she can finally live up to all the expectation and get over that last hurdle at the U.S. Open. The 28-year-old stood on the cusp of becoming the first Arab and African woman to win a major title before losing in the last two Wimbledon finals and she also suffered the same fate at the U.S. Open 11 months ago. Following her defeat by Czech Marketa Vondrousova at the All England Club last month, tears flowed down Jabeur’s face as she trudged up to receive the Wimbledon runner’s-up plate.

It was a defeat she described as the “most painful” of her career. Jabeur will face stiff competition in New York as defending champion Iga Swiatek aims to restore her dominance after losing in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka and 2022 Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina will also be dangerous, while Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff will carry American hopes of winning the title for the first time since Sloane Stephens’ success in 2017. However, in order to finally hoist a Grand Slam trophy, Jabeur has to find a solution for her own struggles.

She has made headlines for collapsing under pressure despite her calm, skill-based style of play. After winning the opening set against Rybakina in last year’s Wimbledon final, Jabeur collapsed to lose 3-6 6-2 6-2. Then the Tunisian failed to cope with Swiatek’s power and fell to a 6-2 7-6(5) defeat to the Pole in the U.S. Open final. At Wimbledon last month, the weight of expectation simply crushed her. Facing an opponent ranked a lowly 42nd in the world, Jabeur appeared to be crippled by nerves as she failed to hold onto a 4-2 lead in the first set and a 3-1 advantage en route to a 6-4 6-4 hammering by Vondrousova.

Her preparations for the U.S. Open starting on Aug. 28 have been far from ideal and the Tunisian withdrew from this month’s Canadian Open in Montreal with a knee injury. Nabil Mlika, who discovered Jabeur at the age of five and coached her for 10 years, has been worried about how his former charge will cope with the burden of expectations. “I hope that she has fully recovered and will be ready both physically and mentally, because her spirits are currently very high,” Mlika told Reuters.

“I hope that she successfully deals with the tension and the weight of expectation at crucial times.” Jabeur is not the first player to lose a string of major finals. American great Chris Evert lost her first three before finishing with a tally of 18, while Kim Clijsters, who lost four slam finals before going on to collect four majors, consoled Jabeur following her Wimbledon defeat. “Hopefully I will be like the others that failed a couple of times to do it and it (the win) will come after. I’ll try to stay positive,” Jabeur said.

Andy Roddick also offered his help to the fan favourite. The American won his first major final in 2003 at the U.S. Open but that was his only Grand Slam success. He then lost a final in New York and three at Wimbledon – all to Roger Federer. “I actually sent her (Jabeur) a message after the (Wimbledon) final and said, ‘Listen if you ever want to chat I’ve been where you are right now but I have more faith in you winning Wimbledon than I ever had in myself winning Wimbledon.” No matter what happens at the U.S. Open, Jabeur still has huge support from her fans back in Tunisia and they believe that she will be crowned a Grand Slam champion one day.

Source: ThePRINT