WIMBLEDON – To the many “firsts” filling Ons Jabeur’s résumé, add a new one: First Arab woman to reach the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament.
The third-seeded Tunisian improved on last year's quarterfinal run at Wimbledon by doing one better on Tuesday at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. She beat Marie Bouzkova 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 on Centre Court.
“It means a lot,” said the 27-year-old Jabeur, who is ranked No. 2 in the world. “I was hoping that I could get to this stage for a long time already. ... I was talking a little bit to (former Moroccan player) Hicham Arazi, and he told me, ‘Arabs always lose in the quarterfinals and we are sick of it. Please break this.' I was, like, I’ll try, my friend.”
She tried and it's true, she did it.
In the semifinals, Jabeur will face another newcomer to this stage at a major tournament — Tatjana Maria.
The 34-year-old German, who twice took breaks from tennis to have a child, became the oldest first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the Open era in her 35th appearance at such a tournament. She defeated 22-year-old Jule Niemeier 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 on No. 1 Court.
Jabeur and Maria are good friends.
“I’m really happy for her that she’s getting what she deserves. I know she struggled a lot,” Jabeur said. “It’s not easy coming back after having two babies. It’s going to be a great match between us, a lot of respect, for sure.”
Jabeur has been setting record after record for Arab players in recent years. She became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament in 2020 at the Australian Open. In 2021, she was the first Arab player to break into the top 10 of the men's or women's rankings, then became the first Arab to win a WTA title, and topped it off with her record run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
This year, things have been going even better for Jabeur on the grass at the All England Club. She won her first four matches in straight sets and was rarely troubled in any of them.
That changed against Bouzkova, a 23-year-Czech who had never before been to the third round at a major tournament. Bouzkova's strong start, however, didn't last into the second set.
“She gets all the balls and doesn’t make, to win a point, easy for me,” Jabeur said. “I’m glad I stepped in with my game. I was more aggressive in the second set, and especially tactically I was playing some angles that she didn’t like much.”
Maria also lost the first set before recovering to win the next two. The victory made her only the sixth woman to reach the Wimbledon semifinals after turning 34 years old.
The previous five women — Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Venus Williams and Serena Williams — won a combined 30 titles at the All England Club in their careers.
“To be in a list of such great players, it’s amazing,” said Maria, who had only ever reached the third round at a major once before — at Wimbledon in 2015. “I mean, to have my name in the same spot, yeah, I still cannot believe it, really.”
Maria is making her 10th appearance at the All England Club — her participation was twice interrupted to have children. Her first daughter was born in 2013 and the second came in 2021.
Tennis, despite this incredible run at Wimbledon, has taken a back seat to family ever since the kids came along.
“I think for me, that’s the most important in my life, to be a mom of my two kids. Nothing will change this,” Maria said. “I’m in the semifinal of Wimbledon, it’s crazy, but I’m still a mom. After this I will go out over there and I will see my kids and I will do the same thing what I do every single day.”
Maria was ranked outside the top 250 as recently as March, but she has worked her way back to No. 103.
She returned from her second maternity leave about a year ago and lost in the first round of the U.S. Open. At the majors this year, she lost in the first round at both the Australian Open and the French Open.
“I always believed that I have something inside, I mean, that I can do this," Maria said. "I always believed in this, but to be now here in this spot ... one year ago I gave birth to my second daughter. If somebody would tell me one year later you are in a semifinal of Wimbledon, that’s crazy.”
More AP Wimbledon coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/wimbledon and https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports