“I want to be a Grand Slam champion”: Top 10-bound Jabeur has her eyes set on bigger goals

27-year-old Ons Jabeur has become the first Arab women to break into the top 10 but the Tunisian is not satisfied and wants more

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia at Indian Wells Ons Jabeur of Tunisia at the 2021 BNP Paribas Open WTA 1000 tennis tournament Photographer: Zuma / Panoramic

WTA 2021 BNP Paribas Open | Draw | Order of Play

On Thursday, Ons Jabeur created history by becoming the first Arab woman to break into the world’s top 10 after reaching the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open. But the 27-year-old from Tunisia has her eyes set on something bigger – winning a Grand Slam tournament.

Currently ranked No 14, Jabeur achieved the historic top 10 milestone after beating Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 7-5, 6-3 in Indian Wells. The Tunisian is also one of the leading contenders for one of the four remaining spots at the season-ending WTA Finals, and said that she was more concerned about that than breaking into the top 10 at the start of the tournament.

“To be honest, I wasn’t looking at the ranking. I was looking more at the race at the beginning of the tournament. Like this is a dream coming true. This is something that I’ve been wanting, like you said, maybe you knew me when I was 16. Even before, I always wanted to get there, to be No. 1 in the world. Top 10 I know is the beginning. I know I deserve this place from a long time since I was playing well. But I want to prove that I deserve to be here, I deserve to be one of the top 10 players.”

Jabeur’s achievement has received plenty of recognition in the tennis world with greats such as Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Andy Murray all posting congratulatory tweets for the Tunisian, who is known for her unorthodox game style which is high on variety, slices and drop shots.

“It means a lot. I honestly did not expect Andy Murray or Navratilova or Billie Jean King to tweet about me. It’s unbelievable. Just it shows how important it is to me to achieve this. Being recognized by legends, honestly, it just gives me even more the power to work harder and be like them one day maybe, a Grand Slam champion.”

Hopefully I’ll go through this without having a heart attack (smiling)

Ons Jabeur

Jabeur has made a habit of breaking new ground in recent months. She was already the highest ranked Arab womn before this and in June, she became the first to also win a WTA tour singles title when she lifted the Birmingham trophy. She also reached three other WTA Finals and the quarter-final at Wimbledon in 2021.

The Tunisian said she had been feeling the pressure coming into this tournament but knew she would need to face these kind of situations if she wants to achieve her dream of winning a Grand Slam.

“I came here stressed a lot with the race. I was talking to my mental coach and I told her, This is too much. But I told her, I need to do this, I need to go through this to be able to win a Grand Slam one day. To go and win a Grand Slam, you need to kind of take this step. I am trying to take these steps. I’m trying so hard to calm myself down and handle all this stress because I want to be a Grand Slam champion. If I want to do that, then I need to go through this. Hopefully I’ll go through this without having a heart attack (smiling).”

“I have an unbelievable team with me” – Jabeur

Jabeur also credited her team, which includes her coach, Issam Jellali, and her husband, Karim Kamoun, who doubles up as her fitness coach, for helping her achieve her dream.

“I have an unbelievable team with me. First of all, they understand me. It’s very helpful that we speak all the same language and we came all from the same country because we understand what it means to be Tunisian, to be on the tour. Thankfully my fitness coach is my husband so it’s easier to stay away from home. My tennis coach is someone that I know from years ago. He’s like a brother to me. We’re like a family, a family team. We travel together. The key is we communicate a lot and we talk about what’s happening and what’s not. I am glad we all understand each other and we know kind of what’s good for me and what’s not. This is very important.”

Like many tennis players, Jabeur has also been working with a mental coach, who she says has helped her deal with the unchartered territories she keeps finding herself in recent months.

“So far it’s really well. I never been in this situation. I never played this long. Never been in top 10 before. It’s a lot of things happening at the same time. This is what I’ve worked for, this is what I want to believe, to achieve. A lot of things at the same time. I finally, with maturity and enough experience, am accepting this kind of pressure is a privilege, it’s a pleasure to have it. When you’re young, you don’t know. You get too stressed, think about the stress. But it’s a good thing. I’m learning every day, trying to manage. It’s not easy. Unfortunately some people, they don’t understand it’s not easy. I’m trying my best. I’m trying to play my game, have fun, really take pressure as a pleasure on court.”

While she may have to wait till 2022 for attempting to win a Slam, Jabeur will be hoping to reach the biggest final of her career this week. She will next meet Spain’s Paula Badosa, who scored a 6-4, 7-5 win over former world No 1 and three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber. Jabeur and Badosa are tied at 1-1 in head-to-head, with the Tunisian winning their most recent encounter in Miami in March.

“Paula plays really good. She’s an aggressive player. She had such a great matches, great wins against Gauff, Pliskova. It’s unbelievable what she’s doing right now. She’s a tough player. If she wins, it’s going to be a very tough match.”

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