Ons Jabeur described Svetlana Kuznetsova as “the best physically” on tour after the Tunisian Wimbledon debutante made a first round exit at the All England Club on Tuesday.
Jabeur, who is the first Arab woman since 2005 to feature in the Wimbledon main draw, lost 6-3, 6-2 to the seventh-seeded Kuznetsova in a 65-minute contest on Court No. 2.
The 22-year-old is renowned for her deft touch, clever drop shots and unorthodox game, but Kuznetsova had an answer for Jabeur’s every trick. After waiting all day for the three previous matches to be completed on that court, the pair put on an entertaining show just in time to beat the darkness.
“Honestly I wanted to play much better than today. The draw is not so good, it’s not easy to play No7 in the world but that’s tennis and I have to accept this. We played a little bit late so it was kind of tough,” Jabeur told Sport360.
“I was trying to be there, to be more stable on the court because I felt a little bit like not getting my feet down and stuff. I didn’t play as good as my qualifying matches but it’s a different player, different conditions.
“I tried my best, I tried to mix, to slice, to drop shot. She was really fast, I was not expecting this, either the reaction was good or she runs really fast. I think she’s the best physically in the circuit. Her reaction is really fast.”
Jabeur is on the brink of breaking the top-100 for the first time and is enjoying a year of breakthroughs, having reached the third round at Roland Garros a few weeks ago to become the first-ever Arab woman to make that stage at a Grand Slam.
Her game, theoretically, should be great for grass and although she hasn’t played much on the surface, she is looking forward to achieving strong results on it in the future.
“I’m happy to be here, to have played my first Wimbledon draw,” said Jabeur.
“Grass is a tricky surface but with my game, everyone tells me ‘oh grass, it’s your surface, you should play easy here, with your eyes closed’. I like to play on grass, maybe because I like football, putting on the grass shoes I feel like a football player, which is something I like so much.
“So moving on grass is something special for me, except it’s a bit slippery sometimes. I enjoy grass a lot and honestly I’m looking forward to playing next year and the year after and I hope I’m going to have very good results on grass.”
Jabeur slipped and fell early in the second set against Kuznetsova and admits her hip is a little sore. She’s hoping it’s not something serious and is looking to get her body ready for the US hard-court season.
Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion and three-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist (2003, 2005, 2007), was impressed by Jabeur’s talent.
“I felt like she had nothing to lose. I saw, she was playing so free. Her hand was going and she made some amazing shots,” said Kuznetsova, who was just the third top-10 player Jabeur had ever faced.
“But I felt like, and I know that I’m more consistent and I got to be there all the time, I held my serve, I didn’t do any double faults, I maintained a high percentage of the first serve. I was struggling on return, I wasn’t doing returns so well and second set I started just more calm and it worked for me better.”
Asked about Jabeur’s potential and whether she sees her as a future top-50 player, Kuznetsova said: “It’s a lot of work, if she’s willing to do it. But she’s got to improve more, definitely she has a chance. It depends on the draws and some other things. It’s a lot of work but if she’s willing to do it, then why not? I think she has talent, but it’s a lot of work.”