Selima Sfar, the only Arab woman to ever rank in the top 100, believes her Tunisian compatriot Ons Jabeur is the perfect person to pass on the baton to after the 22-year-old made history by reaching the third round at Roland Garros.
Jabeur became the first-ever Arab woman to reach the last-32 at a Grand Slam when she upset No6 seed Dominika Cibulkova at the French Open on Wednesday and Sfar, who is now retired and works as a commentator for beIN Sports, could not be happier for her countrywoman and friend.
“I am extremely proud, I’m extremely happy for her but proud and happy not only for her but all the Arab women, Tunisians, Arabs and Muslim women. This is an amazing message. It’s been a long time that I’ve been waiting maybe to pass (the baton) to someone and Ons came – not only I found somebody to pass it, but to somebody great, somebody with so much talent,” Sfar told Sport360 in the video message above.
“What happened, during such a symbolic tournament, on such a big court, it can’t be better, so congratulations to her.”
Jabeur, who made it into the French Open main draw as a lucky loser, faces Swiss No30 seed Timea Bacsinszky in the third round on Friday (fourth match on Court 1 from an 11:00am start), looking to keep her fairy-tale going.
Her coach, Mislav Hizak, whom she teamed up with at the end of last season, has been pleased with her progress so far this year and can only see her moving onwards and upwards.
“I believe she is an amazing player and it was amazing to see her at this level, to compete and to win,” Hizak told Sport360 of her win over Cibulkova – the first top-10 win of her career.
“I feel like she deserved it throughout all the hard work that we’ve put into it, just day-in, day-out, the things that we’ve been doing.
“This for sure is the best moment of her career and I’m happy for that, the things that she’s improving. She’s a young player, she has many more years of good career, and I know she will only be better.”
The Croatian coach has seen notable differences since they’ve started working together, particularly with her discipline and work ethic.
“She’s a good character, an open person, a very communicative person, no doubt about it, a very big character,” he says.
“I think she picked up her professionalism to a higher level, her discipline, all her attitude, I think it’s grown in her. She understands what needs to be done, she’s making some choices for herself, and some sacrifices, and some right choices. She’s also letting go and communicating with me and trusting me as well. She knows it’s a path, it’s a process and she’s making these things for herself.”
Jabeur’s friend, Daria Kasatkina, the No26 seed in Paris, also vouched for the hard work the Tunisian has been putting in. They spent their preseason together in Slovakia with Empire Tennis Academy and even did some altitude training in the mountains to prepare for 2017.
“That was a good one, I was watching yesterday on my phone, she was playing very well I think,” said Kasatkina of Jabeur’s triumph over Cibulkova. “I’m really happy for her because she deserves it. I know how hard she works, we worked together in my academy, so what she has, she deserved. And I hope she can go further and further.”
Jabeur impressed with her serve in her second round against Cibulkova, as she dropped just two points on her first serve, and saved one of the two break points she faced.
“That’s a weapon. She has a very good motion on the serve, I think it’s a big weapon for her and her game that we based and we did a lot of work on that in the times that we had for training,” said Hizak. “We emphasised a lot of her things on the serve as well as on the return – I think we improved that aspect a lot and we’ll still keep on improving it to be really solid as a base of her game. When you have good motion and a good technical movement, you’ve got to use it on this level, it’s a big advantage.”
Jabeur has had trouble with her fitness in the past but Hizak believes those days are now behind her as she has made significant progress in that area.
“It’s better. I cannot say it’s the best, of course it can be better and I think she knows that too but since she already improved, she’s not really worried about it because she knows she’s on the right track and I think it will just become even better,” he explained.
Nick Kyrgios is still suffering from loss of motivation since his grandfather’s passing in April and admits he must hit the practice courts if he plans on getting back on track for the grass season.
The 18th-seeded Australian was knocked out of the French Open second round on Thursday by Kevin Anderson 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 after leading by a set and break earlier in the contest. It is his second consecutive round two exit at a Grand Slam this season.
“I thought he played pretty well. He was really aggressive off returns. I mean, it’s the type of match where I’m not going to get much rhythm. I was good for a set and a half,” said Kyrgios after the match.
“But I haven’t really put together any good training in the last couple weeks. Obviously, just trying to manage some niggles.
“And, obviously, I haven’t really structured any good training in the last five weeks. So I don’t think I was match-ready to play best of five sets, but he played well today. So he was too good.”
Kyrgios dealt with a hip problem in the build-up to Roland Garros and he also felt a pop in his shoulder during Thursday’s match.
But besides his physical issues, the 22-year-old concedes that he hasn’t been in the right headspace to train hard since the death of his grandfather five weeks ago.
Kyrgios, who had been coach-less for the past three years, started working with Sebastien Grosjean, who has been with him in Paris this week. Having been alone for so long, has he been able to make use of the Frenchman, especially after a loss like this one, or is it tricky for Kyrgios to let someone in so early in their partnership?
“He was just chatting to me in the locker room. But, I mean, he hasn’t really been working with me that much. It’s not to the point where, you know, we’re doing every training session together and he knows me great,” explained Kyrgios.
“Obviously, he just says the right things after that kind of loss. He knows that things have been difficult for me. But he knows firsthand that I haven’t put in enough work to have gone deep here. The whole team knows it.
“You know, and the surprising thing is, I was in a winning position today and I still could have won. It doesn’t even matter how underdone I was. I still could have won. He knows – we both know that I’ve just got to practice. You know, during Indian Wells and Miami time, I was practicing a lot.
“Yeah, I mean, after my grandpa passing, I just lost a lot of motivation to do anything, really.”
During his match against Anderson, Kyrgios hit 16 winners but lost his serve six times. He was unable to convert any of the six break point opportunities he had in the fourth set and he let his frustration get to him at some point, going on a racquet-smashing frenzy while sitting at his bench.
A young fan sat behind him looked to be particularly amused by it.
“I don’t know if that’s the best role model you want,” admitted Kyrgios. “But, I mean, I’m not trying to show anybody really my frustration. I just do it for myself. I’ve been doing it my whole career, really. I think, yeah, it’s just a habit now.”
Kyrgios is still in action in doubles, alongside his compatriot Jordan Thompson, and will hold off making plans for the grass season until he finishes his campaign in Paris.
“Tomorrow I’m not playing for myself. I’m playing for Thomo as well. And he’s the type of guy that will try his best for every single match. So tomorrow I know that I’m going to have to just put my singles out of the way and get back out there and compete. And I think that’s a positive, just getting straight back out there and trying to get better, I guess,” added Kyrgios.
He feels there’s enough time for him though to get ready for Wimbledon which is just over four weeks away.
Andy Murray insisted he is playing well enough to beat Juan Martin Del Potro in the third round of the French Open after battling past Martin Klizan.
The world No1 needed three hours and 35 minutes to defeat the world No50 from Slovakia, eventually coming through 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3).
It was a very patchy performance from Murray, who started poorly and then got himself into trouble again at the start of the fourth set before mounting a comeback.
The victory set up a clash with former US Open champion Del Potro, who is still working his way back up the rankings after wrist problems that almost ended his career.
The Argentinian benefited from the emotional retirement of Nicolas Almagro during their second-round match when Del Potro himself was struggling with a groin injury.
But, assuming he is close to fully fit, Del Potro will present a serious test of Murray’s Roland Garros ambitions.
The Scot was determined to send a message of positivity, saying: “I definitely feel like I’m capable of winning that match.
“I’m playing way better than I was two weeks ago, and today’s match will have done me a lot of good, because physically I pulled up well and felt good, so I will gain a lot of confidence from that. And I also hit a lot of balls out there, more than the first round match.
“It seems like everyone thinks I didn’t play particularly well today, but there was some good stuff against a tough opponent. It’s not easy to play against someone like him. So hopefully I will keep improving in the next one.”
If Murray was positive off court, it was a different story on it, with the top seed maintaining a dialogue of vitriol towards himself and his support camp.
Coaches Ivan Lendl and Jamie Delgado, fitness coach Matt Little and physio Mark Bender are very used to being in the firing line, and it is something Murray has tried to improve. But he accepts the negativity is not good for team morale.
“I think a lot of time when I’m playing and especially when I’m frustrated or down, I don’t always project a lot of positivity on the court,” he said.
“Sometimes I think also for my team it’s difficult to know exactly how I’m feeling or what it is that I need when I’m on the court. So I think my job is really to try to be more positive while I’m out there.
“And I think that kind of helps everyone. I think they also feed off that a little bit, as well. But the last few months have obviously been tough, not been a lot of good stuff going on out there. When I’m getting frustrated, I think it’s not easy for them, either.”
Former British No1 Greg Rusedski, commentating on the match for Eurosport, believes Murray will need to improve to beat Del Potro.
Rusedski said: “That was patchy, a bit up and down and you just don’t see the confidence that he normally has going into a grand slam event. Yes Martin Klizan is dangerous but Andy just didn’t have that consistency.
“We’re just waiting for the great tennis from Andy Murray and he’ll need it in the next round against Juan Martin Del Potro. He needs more consistency, if he’s as patchy against Del Potro he’s not going to get through.”
Klizan has had some stand-out wins in the past but came into the match nursing a calf injury that almost forced him to miss the tournament.
There was no sign of that early on, though, as the 27-year-old blasted forehand winners past a passive Murray. The Scot struggled to find any depth or penetration on his shots and, although he broke Klizan when he served for the set, he played a very poor tie-break. Murray did not hit top form in the second set either, although he won it comfortably, but was playing better by the third.
However, just when it looked like he would finish the match going away, as he had in his opener against Andrey Kuznetsov, Murray dropped the first three games of the fourth set and got bogged down in a scrap once more. The fourth set alone lasted 78 minutes but, having broken Klizan when he served for a set for the second time in the match, Murray dominated the tie-break.
The Scot, meanwhile, threatened a sit-down protest over the positioning of spidercam, the moving camera above the court.
“I just said, If it’s there in my ball toss again, I’m going to sit down and wait for it to move, because I just don’t feel I should have to be asking for it every change of ends to not be there,” he said.
* From PA