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Jabeur’s new challenge: Putting the loss nobody expected behind her

In her first Grand Slam as a legitimate contender, Ons Jabeur was defeated in the first round at Roland-Garros. The Tunisian hopes to put this setback behind her as she looks ahead to the grass court season

Ons Jabeur, Roland-Garros 2022 Ons Jabeur, Roland-Garros 2022 © Tomasz Jastrzebowski / Foto Olimpik / Sipa

For the first time in her career, 27-year-old Ons Jabeur came into a Grand Slam as a legitimate contender. The Tunisian, who has wowed crowds across the world over the past couple of seasons with her eclectic and unique game to earn the nickname of “The Magician”, is ranked a career-high No 6 in the world.

She won the biggest title of her career – the Madrid Open – and reached the final in Rome, where she went down to world No 1 Iga Swiatek, who has won 28 matches in a row.

With 17 wins, she had won more matches on clay than any other player on the WTA Tour in 2022, and stood a good chance to achieve her goal of breaking into the world’s top 5.

And when she won the opening set of her first-round clash against Poland’s Magda Linette, ranked 58th in the world, on Court Philippe Chatrier, 6-3, it appeared that her incredible clay court run would continue at Roland-Garros.

But the 30-year-old Linette was in no mood to be just a passenger in the Jabeur show. The Pole came back to score a 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 win in two hours and 26 minutes and reach the second round in Paris.

The pressure of being a contender seemed to weigh on Jabeur in the third set, as she struggled to put away the determined Pole. This was neevr more apparent than the final game where she missed an easy overhead which bounced on her side of the court.

Speaking to the press after her loss, the Tunisian acknowledged that she felt pressure of being one of the favourties but added that her opponent was simply better on the day.

“Apparently, yes and it was quite obvious today because Magda plays really well and it’s really hard to accept that someone who doesn’t have a better ranking than you have, well, it’s difficult to accept that they play well, Jabeur said. She was playing top 20 and she had nothing to lose today.”

“So I think she deserves that win, as I said, because she played a lot better. I didn’t necessarily play a bad match, but, I should have used my experience a little bit more and I should have been a bit more present and try and break her serve or and try and move forward in the second or the third set. “

‘Not going to let a match like this ruin it’: Jabeur

Ons Jabeur and Magda Linette, Roland-Garros 2022 © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

But the Tunisian, who has never reached a semi-final in a major tournament, has not gotten this in her career without overcoming disappointments and early losses earlier. Jabeur said she will prefer to focus on the positives over the past few months rather than let one bad loss affect her too much.

“I’m a pretty positive person, to be honest with you, I’m not going to let a match like this ruin it, (the good results over past few months) but obviously I was expecting better but maybe it’s a good thing for me to reflect good on this match and maybe everything, we say maybe something happens bad because there is something good happening in the future, I don’t know, hopefully the grass season, hopefully Wimbledon, I don’t know, but, definitely great time to reflect and to see what’s going to happen next.”

One shouldn’t lose hope in tennis, because we lose every week.

Ons Jabeur

“Of course one needs to be patient in this sport and shouldn’t lose hope, because we lose every week. So we need to be able to take these defeats and try to take advantage of this and I’m going to try and keep moving forward, get some rest and we’ll see.”

Jabeur has repeatedly said that one of her major goals is to break into the world’s Top 5. But a first-round exit in Paris, where she reached the fourth round last year, as well as the WTA’s decision to not allot points for Wimbledon, which means she will not be able to defend her quarter-final points from 2021, has made that goal a lot harder for the moment.

There is also the points from winning the Birmingham title last June to defend. All of that means the Tunisian will feel some more pressure in the coming weeks as she heads over to the grass swing, where her unique style of play will make her a legitimate contender once again. How she manages these expectations going forward will play a big role in how much further she can climb up the ladder of women’s tennis.

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