London, Jul 13 (EFE).- Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur had unfinished business after losing in the Wimbledon final a year ago, when she missed out a chance to become the first North African or Arab woman to win a Grand Slam title.
In this year’s edition, four consecutive Grand Slam champions have learned the hard way just how focused she is on taking home this year’s title.
Her latest victim on Thursday was second-seeded Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who could have wrested the No. 1 ranking away from Poland’s Iga Swiatek by winning the tournament.
Instead, the Tunisian’s supreme counter-punching skills and all-court game proved too much for Sabalenka’s massive power in a 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-3 semifinal victory on Centre Court.
The match was almost a carbon copy of Jabeur’s victory in that same stadium on Wednesday over third-seeded Elena Rybakina, the Kazakh player who defeated her in the 2022 championship match.
Like in that quarterfinal contest, Jabeur on Thursday let the first set slip away but seized control late in the second set and rolled to a convincing victory in the decider.
The Tunisian showed from the outset that she had the soft hands and quick feet to cope with Sabalenka’s power.
Using an array of techniques – block forehand returns, compact-swing flat backhands and slice off of both sides – she consistently put pressure on the Belarusian player’s service games.
Even so, the 2023 Australian Open champion struck enough aces and winners in the first set to remain on serve and force a tiebreaker.
In that “breaker,” Jabeur grabbed a 4-2 lead with one of the shots of the tournament – a flat forehand on the full run that landed just inside the sideline for a clean winner.
But Sabalenka rallied and finished off the set when the Tunisian blocked a potent first serve over the baseline.
The Belarusian then could almost taste victory when she went on a 10-point run in the second set, a stretch in which she secured her only service break of the match.
The biggest game of the set and the entire contest was the eighth game of the second set, when both players battled across all parts of the court.
Sabalenka won two thrilling rallies in that game, one in which Jabeur was left sprawled on the grass and another when the world No. 2 sprinted to the net and guided a brilliant passing shot into the corner.
But it still wasn’t enough.
Jabeur won that game to get back on serve at 4-4 when the Belarusian netted a forehand.
Then two games later she clinched the set with a backhand return of serve winner, a point she celebrated by putting her index finger behind her ear to encourage the crowd to cheer even more loudly.
In the third set, Jabeur maintained the high level of counter-punching that has made her unbeatable at this year’s event, as she routinely responded to nearly all of Sabalenka’s biggest ground stroke blasts.
The crucial blow then came in the sixth game of the decider, when Sabalenka was lured into a cat-and-mouse rally. After hitting a couple of slice backhands, she went back to the topspin stroke but hit the ball over the baseline.
A couple of games later, Jabeur clinched the hard-fought victory with her third ace of the match.