We started talking about a ‘Big Three’ in women’s tennis of Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and last year’s champion Elena Rybakina — but if Ons Jabeur wins the Wimbledon title on Saturday, it will now be the ‘Big Four’.
The Tunisian lost the final a year ago and also fell to defeat at the same stage of the US Open but has worked a lot with her mental coach Melanie Maillard since then.
I think even if you lose, it’s very helpful to have been in the final for the experience of the day. It’s a different feeling — the locker room is empty, you have that thought of ‘one more win and you’re a major champion’.
It’s a big moment and often some players get overwhelmed by that. So to have been in that situation before is crucial. Jabeur’s opponent Marketa Vondrousova has also lost a Grand Slam final — at Roland Garros in 2019 — and also missed out in the 2021 Olympics final in Tokyo.
You learn about yourself in losing finals. Ons had the Venus Rosewater Dish as a screensaver on her phone. She is from a small country and she is such a role model for women — especially Arab women — and so many from the continent are inspired by her.
The crafty couple of Ons Jabeur and Marketa Vondrousova will compete in Saturday’s final
Both women will be looking to follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner Elena Rybakina
Ons loves to entertain when she is on the court, though she is doing less of that now and is more focused on winning. The crowd loves her.
She has the whole of Africa behind her. I wouldn’t want to play with that pressure, so I wouldn’t bring it up if I were her coach. Keep it micro thinking and focus on her game plan and be clear on tactics.
Jabeur has really compact strokes and an accurate serve which are assets on grass. She’s 5ft 6in, she’s got good balance and moves really well. Both of these players can be behind and on the defence but they chase winners down and steal points.
She is playing fewer slices and drop shots and playing more straightforward tennis. Her forehand is a big asset, her backhand down the line is deep. She absorbs power well — as she has shown in beating Petra Kvitova, Rybakina and Sabalenka — but this match is more about creating her own pace.
Ons has lost the first set of her last three matches but came back to win. She will be full of confidence. And she is the clear favourite here. She has played well against pace but Vondrousova is a different challenge.
If the Czech player was to win, it would be just an outrageous story. She had won four matches in total on grass before this tournament and isn’t seeded! This surface is so unique. Someone has obviously convinced her that her game is well-suited to grass.
I watched her quarter-final against Jessica Pegula and the first set was a masterclass in court craft. She sliced and then hit heavy top-spin and then used the angles and hit drop shots. In the second set Pegula got the rhythm to make it one set all.
Marketa Vondrousova had won just four matches on grass before the start of the tournament
She remarkably still has a losing record on grass, with 10 wins and 11 losses ahead of the final
In the decider, Vondrousova was down 4-1 and defended a point for 5-1. I’ve never seen a change quite like it. A player going from this craftiness and disruptive ability — perfect tennis with variation — but then finishing with all out aggression to win the last five games.
These are two of the craftiest players in the game and there is more unpredictability because both of them have a great Plan A and Plan B. Vondrousova uses her left-handedness very well.
She uses her spin well and the grass takes that sliced serve very well.The crowd will be on the side of Jabeur as they love her style, personality and her story. It’s similar to Vondrousova’s semi-final when fans on Centre Court were cheering on Ukrainian Elina Svitolina.
So she has already been through the scenario of having the crowd cheering on her opponent. She blocked it well.
Svitolina was tied up in knots with the moment of the semi-final — maybe she was emotionally tired. Vondrousova played with freedom in that match.
So much of tennis is led by emotions. Will Vondrousova be overwhelmed by the moment? Will she be overwhelmed by Ons’ consistent and purposeful play?
The entertaining Tunisian Jabeur has become a big crowd favourite to the Centre Court fans
The world No 6 is on the cusp of becoming the first African woman to win a Grand Slam title
A quick word on Christopher Eubanks, the long-time practice partner of my son, Brandon Holt.
He’s lost in qualifying four times here and it took him five years to break into the top 100. Now he’s quite possibly going to be seeded for the US Open back in New York.
Everything was there with Chris but the consistency and belief needed to come. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, he’s got a great smile and this is a story of persistence.
But, darn, he was four points from knocking out Daniil Medvedev! He was breaking even financially for five years… now he’s going to be a millionaire this year. It’s a wonderful story of keeping at it and your dreams coming true.