Wimbledon 2022: Ons Jabeur Speaks on Representing Africa & catching Iga Swiatek

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur, the WTA world number two, gave an exclusive BBC Sport column at a Grand Slam tournament. She discusses how she loves breaking boundaries to inspire others and catching world number one Iga Swiatek.

This week I reached a career-high of world number two which means I’m the highest-ranked African player of all-time. It’s incredible.

I’m honestly living the dream. I always wanted to achieve great things and I always wanted to inspire players from my country and from my continent. It’s very important to me.

Whenever I achieve new things and break new barriers, people come up with words to describe what I have done. Journalists call me a ‘trailblazer’, headlines say ‘Onstoppable’. People back home in Tunisia even call me the ‘Minister of Happiness’!

I love to hear things like this. It makes me feel amazing. One of my main goals is to inspire so many people from my country to do whatever they want to do – especially for them to play tennis.

I’m someone from Tunisia and nobody believed I could be here at Wimbledon as the world number two. That’s the message I’m always trying to send: if you’re mentally strong, you can do anything.

Inspiring women and girls, especially from the Arab world, and getting them to break boundaries is important to me. But my success is also helping inspire men and boys to play tennis, which is a big thing for an Arab woman to do.

In Tunisia there are local cafes where people go and watch my matches on the television there. Friends are calling me and they say ‘my dad is a big fan of yours’ or ‘ my son wants to be like you’.

These sort of messages inspire me to continue trying to inspire everybody. It’s not just my generation, but other generations too. Lots of people of all ages now they feel they want to play tennis.

When I go back to Tunisia people are very happy to see me. Even when they’re driving, people sometimes clap and cheer for me. My husband, Karim, jokes he doesn’t want to go to the shopping mall with me anymore because it gets too busy with people coming up to me. But I love it.

It is great connecting with people, it is part of my journey. I love seeing them and seeing their support. That’s one of the reasons why I started playing tennis.

‘Tennis is becoming as big in Tunisia as football’

I didn’t realise I was the highest-ranked African player of all-time until I saw it on the news. It’s unbelievable.

I never expected to achieve that as soon as I have. But winning the title in Berlin recently, which came shortly after I won the Madrid Open, means everything is coming my way.

Read Also: How Tunisian Ons Jabeur won a Historic Tennis Title in Madrid 2022

My dreams are coming true, one by one. Another of my dreams is to see more players from the Arab world and from Africa. Hopefully we will see a lot in the next five years or so.

It is a privilege for me to represent Tunisia, the Arab world and now an entire continent.

My favourite tournament before I started playing the Grand Slams was playing the African Games and going around Africa to discover new places.

I won the women’s singles at the 2011 African Games in Mozambique and I have also visited Botswana, Nigeria and Senegal.

That enabled me to see there are a lot of players in these countries who are very talented. But they need the inspiration and motivation that they too can become professional players.

Of course they need courts and equipment to play, too, and I hope I can help them.

I am honoured to represent this part of the world and I cannot wait to do even more.

‘Iga is playing incredible but catching her is not impossible’

I feel like I belong as the world number two and deserve to be there.

Now my eyes are on becoming number one. There is a long way to go to try to catch Iga Swiatek, but it is not impossible.

I can’t catch her just yet because she has a huge lead after an incredible year, but there are a lot of points available at the US Open, plus at the other 1000s on the WTA Tour.

I’ll try my best to catch her and if I don’t do it this year, hopefully I can at the beginning of next year.

I feel like I deserve to be number two but to be number one I want to be playing at an even higher level and feel like I really deserve that spot.

That’s the most important thing for me: reaching the same level as what Iga, who has won 36 matches in a row and her past six titles, is playing right now.

Source: BBC

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