2022 – ‘I want the title’: Ons Jabeur embraces favorite Wimbledon brand after win | Wimbledon 2022

In the first week of Wimbledon, Anas Jaber had to carry the weight of their continent on their backs. The 27-year-old Tunisian now faces the added burden of being the new favorite at Wimbledon. But the way she survived five points before beating Elise Mertens 7-6 (9), 6-4 in a thriller suggests she has the skill – and nerves – to make history.

She was tense at times, especially in the first group. But this was understandable. Ostensibly, this match was on the verge of qualifying for the quarter-finals. But both women realized there was a lot at stake.

The bottom half of the draw is so weak – weaker, in fact, than former US Open champion Tracy Austin can remember at this point – that they knew a win here would put an arm in the hands of Saturday’s final.

How could it be otherwise when the three remaining players in the bottom half – Marie Bozkova, Jules Niemeyer and Tatiana Maria – are all unranked? And together they have a combined rank of 266? No wonder Jaber now feels a huge opportunity. “I have set myself very high goals in this tournament, so I will continue to do that,” she said. “No matter who comes, I will build the fight, I will fight to the end because I really want the title.”

At the US Open last year, Mertens was victorious in two tight sets. This time Jaber’s flashy play paid off. But it was a close call. After three breaks in the first three matches, Jaber appeared to be in control of the match with a 4-2 score. But the Belgian broke his ground before a convincing group broke out a high-quality break.

It looked like Mertens was up 6-3. But then Jaber saved four set points before a flat-footed winner gave her an 8-7 lead. But Mertens is not done yet. First, she hit a massive backhand down the line, then went 110 mph to lead 9-8 and set the fifth set point. Once again, Jaber battled with a string of big winners before winning a vibrant set of 11-9.

Marie Bozkova defeated Caroline Garcia in the fourth round and will play Anas Jaber Photo: Alastair Grant/AP

Jabeur was even happier after the break, taking a 2-0 lead early in the second set – only to have Mertens bounce back straight away. Both players continued to play good tennis – and kept serving – up to 5-4. At the time, Mertens, who had yet to beat a first- and second-ranked player in the world in six attempts, was under pressure to keep serve for survival. He proved it a lot when the Belgian made a double fault on match point.

“It was stressful and fun,” Jaber said. “They are a big opponent. It’s never easy to play against them and I had to go deeper into this tiebreak. But I love playing on grass. I love the relationship between me and nature and I hope to continue that until the finals.”

Tunisian flags flew in glee at Stadium No. 1. Jaber’s story loses nothing in its retelling. Having reached the top 50 in early 2020, last year she became the first Arab player, male or female, to reach the top ten in the world. Now that Iga Swiatek is gone, she is favored by becoming the first Arab or African player to win a Grand Slam title.

When asked afterwards if he was a pioneer, Jaber said: “It’s not easy. But I love this sport. I want to see more players from the African continent here. I want them to believe more in themselves and believe in their ability to be here. I don’t belong to a family. Rich. So you really have to stop making excuses and move on.”

Czech Bozkova is next to Jabbour, who defeated Caroline Garcia 7-5, 6-2. Bozkova was part of the doubles team with Sarah Soribis Tormo, who faced Jabeur and Serena Williams at Eastbourne, so she understood how good Jabeur was on the grass.

“I know Ons very well,” Buzkova said. “A really nice girl and one of the most talented in this round. It’s hard to play with everything that goes on the grass, but she can do anything. Lots of falling shots. Your game is really fun.”

Who would dare argue in the face of such evidence?