There are four Tunisians from four different generations competing at Wimbledon this fortnight and Malek Jaziri is hoping more and more tennis players emerge from his home country.
Jaziri, who kicks off his Wimbledon campaign against 14th-seeded Lucas Pouille on Monday, is joined by his compatriots Ons Jabeur in women’s singles, Selima Sfar in Legends’ doubles, and Mohamed Ali Bellalouna in boys’ singles.
Jabeur qualified for her first Wimbledon main draw to become the first woman to play at the All England Club in the ladies’ singles event since Sfar in 2005.
Jaziri admits having his fellow Tunisians at tournaments, after spending so much time as the sole Arab pro on tour is a welcome change.
“I was the only Arab player on tour so I’m always here alone, lonely. So it’s nice when Ons is here, we enjoy each others’ company,” Jaziri told Sport360 at the All England Club.
“Like I always say, one brings another one. One gives motivation to the other one. Like maybe I gave motivation for someone else, or Selima gave her motivation and now Ons can give motivation to others to show Tunisians and Arabs can do it too, if she can do it, they can too. Hopefully Mohamed Safwat from Egypt too. He can see I can do it then he can too. Hopefully that’s how it works.
“The next generations have to believe and I think it already started.
“There’s a junior in the boys’ draw. There’s me and Ons. Selima is playing here legends. There’s four of us here at Wimbledon across all generations.
“It’s very nice for Arab tennis and Tunisian tennis. You see the progress.”
Jabeur is about to crack the top-100 for the first time and is coming off a stellar performance in Roland Garros where she upset sixth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova to become the first Arab woman to ever reach the third round of a Grand Slam.
“I’m very happy for her, what she’s doing is very good,” said Jaziri. “Because she passed through tough moments. I know it’s not easy when you see all your friends, from her age, they’re playing very well.
“Now she’s almost in the top-100 and I think she has the level. I told her a long time ago, she knows, that she has the level to play very good tennis. She’s powerful, she has very good talent. She has work to do for sure like everyone. She has to focus on that and believe in herself and she will be very good I believe.”
Jaziri, who cracked the top-50 for the first time last February has suffered through a difficult stretch on clay which saw his ranking drop from 47 to his current position of 77.
The 33-year-old hasn’t won a tour-level match since making the third round in Miami in March, and he enters Wimbledon on the back of a five-match losing streak.
He took a step back after his opening round loss on grass to Mischa Zverev in Stuttgart last month and went to Serbia to train with his coach Christophe Freyss and reset ahead of Wimbledon. He looks refreshed and ready here at SW19 and is hoping his woes are finally behind him.
“It’s part of the game, you win, you lose, but the most important thing is how you play, your attitude on your court, outside the court. Even if you lose, it’s okay because you passed through that. You worked hard, you did all these things good, you fought hard on the court,” said Jaziri.
“When you lose a lot of matches it gets you a little bit down. Mentally it’s not that easy, you start to think… it’s not that easy. I had a lot of points to defend, and it’s not easy.
“You’re playing better tournaments, you want to make better results, the objectives are higher. I was working a lot with my coach since the start of the year. We worked a lot on many things, some other things to make progress in my game, but the results didn’t come but hopefully on grass that can change.
“I haven’t played much on grass, I went to Serbia, I practiced there, I had two weeks and a half like another preseason, physically to get ready to prepare until the end of the year. To get in good shape and get the motivation back. It’s also good to relax your mind a little bit.
“When you pass through tough moments it’s good to stop, to think, you enjoy a little bit, practice well, have a good feeling and then you come back with positive energy.”
Jaziri may be 33 but he hit his highest ranking just earlier this year and looks younger and fitter than he’s ever been.
“Everyone’s telling me that,” he said laughing. “The guys have been telling me that I look younger and fitter. They’re asking me ‘what are you taking?’ and I’m like ‘I’m taking nothing’. I let the sun do its job, I let the rain do its job, the wind, everything… naturally.”
Jaziri had started working with his coach on hitting his backhand more instead of slicing it as he usually does and the Tunisian admits the work he’s done hasn’t translated into success on the court yet. He feels confident though heading into his first round against Pouille, whom he beat in a Challenger in Guadalajara early last year, before Pouille rocketed up the rankings.
“For sure I enter this match with the attitude to win. I played him last year, but okay it was in a Challenger in Guadalajara and I won 7-5 in the third. It’s different. He was just in the top 50 or something like that. But that was before he went to Rome and things changed for him after that. Yes it was a Challenger, but it was still a match,” said Jaziri.
“Mentally I feel more confident, so it would be a good challenge for me. My objective is to fight, winning or losing, I passed through tough moments in the past two months, it wasn’t easy for me, and now it’s time to fight.”
Pouille won the title in Stuttgart – his second in 2017 – and was a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon last year. His match in Guadalajara against Jaziri may have been just 16 months ago but it feels like a lifetime has passed since considering the massive leap he’s made in the rankings and with his level.
“It was another period of my career and now I’m a different player, he’s a different player as well so it’s going to be different. But I know it’s going to be a tough match, he’s a good player, he can win some great matches so I need to be ready,” the Frenchman said of Jaziri.
“I know him well, he’s a good guy, I like him, so I hope we have a good match.
“He has a good first serve, he likes to play with his forehand, he likes to control the point, doesn’t really like to move a lot. I will need to be aggressive, to be on my baseline, try to come to the net and be more aggressive than him.”