Ons Jabeur made history at Roland Garros on Monday as she became the first Arab woman in nine years to reach a Grand Slam second round.
Jabeur’s Tunisian compatriot Selima Sfar last achieved that feat at the 2008 French Open, and the retired North African remains the only Arab woman to ever rank in the top-100. Jabeur is inching closer to that top-100 milestone, with her provisional ranking now at 106.
The 22-year-old Jabeur made it into the Roland Garros main draw for the first time in her career as a lucky loser this week. The 2011 French Open junior champion took full advantage of the lifeline she was given by defeating Romanian qualifier Ana Bogdan 6-3, 6-4 on Monday, to reach her maiden Grand Slam second round.
“It’s amazing to be here. Nine years ago was Selima (Sfar), right? I’m going to call her after, I’m going to tell her that it’s unbelievable to be here. I wish she was here with me. This lady is unbelievable, I have no words to describe her,” Jabeur told Sport360.
“To be here today in the French Open is unbelievable. I played juniors here, I have a lot of memories, I hope I will create more and more and hopefully I’ll be ready for the second round.”
Jabeur’s reward is a showdown with Slovakian No6 seed Dominika Cibulkova – a match that will more than likely be scheduled on a bigger court.
“It’s a great match for me, no stress at all for me, I’m just going to play relaxed and play my game and hopefully will create the surprise,” said Jabeur.
“I like to play on big courts, I played once here before on Suzanne Lenglen so I’m used it you know, as usual,” she said with a laugh. “I’m just joking. I’m really happy to be here, for me doesn’t matter to play on court 2 or 3 or 18 or Suzanne Lenglen, I just have to play my game and that’s it.”
Jabeur lost her last round of qualifying here on Friday to Japan’s Miyu Kato but found out soon after that she got a lucky loser spot that was available due to Laura Siegemund’s withdrawal.
She says she enjoys the feeling of getting another chance and is happy to grab it with both hands.
“It was nice actually, it was funny a little bit with the players because they come to me and they’re like ‘heyyy’, but they say the word ‘lucky’ and then ‘loser’ like out loud, I feel like ‘okay, I’m in the main draw, you don’t have to say the word you know?’ But I’m really really happy to be here. I think I got my chance, I won my match and hopefully will continue even better,” said Jabeur.
Against Bogdan, she was rarely in trouble, and her signature drop shots and slices were on full display.
“I played my game. A lot of the drop shots, and then things went really good. She got little bit pissed, and then I tried to get this opportunity to play better. Was slipping a little bit at 3-1, but then I came back and I was really, like, tough mentally to win this match,” she added.
Jabeur’s best memories on a tennis court have come at Roland Garros having lifted the junior title here six years ago.
“I like to be here. It’s really close to Tunisia, so maybe it’s that. I mean, it’s not the same as playing in Australia or USA than to play here. And I speak French, so it’s — I’m kind of close to this country and I like to play here,” she says.
“People are, like, very nice here. There’s a lot of Tunisian who came to support me. So being here, it feels like being in Tunisia. And I got to say, the weather here, they stole it from us, so kind of is a little bit…” she added with a laugh, referring to the ongoing heat wave in Paris.
Jabeur spent her offseason training in Slovakia, with the likes of Daria Kasatkina and Kateryna Kozlova, and she joked that perhaps the people of Trnava – where she practiced – will support her against Cibulkova.
Her fitness coach is also Slovakian – Maros Molner.
“He’s the craziest guy in Slovakia probably,” she said with a chuckle. “Yeah, he’s a really good fitness coach. We had preparation together last year, and I see him a little bit during the – actually, lately, three weeks ago I saw him. I worked out with him. And at the beginning of the year, actually, a little bit my husband was helping me since he’s a fitness coach. So it was kind of – if I’m in Slovakia, I practice with Maros. If I’m not there, my husband helps me a little bit.”