Players' Voice special - Ons Jabeur: 'I want to send a very powerful message to the Arabic world'
In the latest edition of Players’ Voice, Tunisian star Ons Jabeur reflects on her journey to the top, the reaction she’s received from her country, and how she hopes to send a very powerful message to women and kids in Tunisia, Africa and the Arabic world. Just this week, she celebrated a new career-high of world No.24 and is the highest-ranked female Arab player to date.
I started playing tennis from the age of three. My mum used to belong to a local tennis club, which she brought me along to one time, and the rest is history. When I was about six years old, I began to compete in national tournaments and made my first international appearance when I was aged 10.
Growing up, professional tennis players in Tunisia were pretty sparse, which meant that there wasn’t really an established footpath that I could easily step onto. However, I do remember always looking up to Andy Roddick and I tried to watch as many of his matches as possible. I felt inspired by both his game and spirit so I think that, combined with support from my family, was what led me to realise my dream of becoming a world-class tennis player.
Ons Jabeur with her mother Samira
Image credit: Eurosport
My mum, the very first person to put a racket in my hand, was a huge inspiration for me. She’s a very strong woman and I love her character; she gave me the belief and drive to go further and win big. Then my dad, my brothers and my sister inspired me every day too and gave me the motivation to continue - no matter what I do; lose or win, they have always been there.
At the age of 13, we decided I should move to a national sport high school where I could study and play tennis at the same time. I began playing in the ITF’s junior Tour and three years later, I won the French Open which was kind of a big deal in Tunisia…
Ons Jabeur lifts the Girls’ Singles trophy at Roland-Garros in 2011 to become North Africa’s first ever female to win a junior Grand Slam event
Image credit: Getty Images
Seeing how many people were following me, and just as a junior, made me realise the sort of impact I could actually make so it gave me a lot of courage to keep going and make my country even prouder of me. Ten years have now passed and that support has just grown and grown, especially since reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
It feels as if tennis has become like football in Tunisia! I’ve been sent videos of fans watching my matches in cafes in the early hours of the morning and I think that’s led to widening interest for the sport in general, not just for my matches.
I’ve also had calls from some really important people; last year, the President of Tunisia called me and it was amazing to hear from him. I strongly feel the love from my whole country and with the year everyone’s faced because of Covid, it means a lot if I can lift the mood even just a little each time I win.
Fans gather in Tunisian cafe at 3am to watch Ons Jabeur in action (Credit: @Sarah_bh on Twitter)
Image credit: Eurosport
Further down the line, I hope this can all transcend into something bigger; that ultimately more visibility will lead to more people playing - and not just playing but going further and winning matches and titles, breaking the Top 100 and competing in Grand Slams.
We’ve seen the successes of Malek Jaziri (former world No.42) and Selima Sfar (former world No.75) over the last 20 years, but I would love to see two or three new players from Africa and the Arabic world reach that top level.
It’s been amazing to see Mayar Sherif do so well recently too. I’ve known her for a long time as we used to both play in African and Arabic championships when we were younger. I see all the French and Americans together on Tour, and even though Mayar and I are not from the same country, it’s great to have the opportunity to be around her more and speak in Arabic together.
Hopefully we can both inspire the future generations with our performances and show them that it is entirely possible to play in a Grand Slam.
Mayar Sherif celebrates her opening round victory at the 2021 Australian Open and makes history as Egypt’s first ever woman to win a main draw match at a major
Image credit: Getty Images
I just want to send a very powerful message to women and kids that, if I’ve been able to achieve everything I have so far, coming from a small country and a continent where the sport has historically had little visibility, then others can absolutely do the same.
Of course, it’s very important to have as many courts and gyms as possible and I know we don’t have the best right now; we’re not like Europe or the US, but we are trying our best. You can have the best facilities in the world but what’s in your mind and how you work is what’s most important.
I am a 100% Tunisian product, I grew up and trained my whole life in Tunisia, and yes, I didn’t have the best facilities ever but I worked hard to try to achieve the best ranking I could. So for me, it’s all about spending less time complaining about the facilities and more time focusing on yourself.
It really doesn’t matter where you come from, you just have to work hard and believe that it’s possible to achieve your dream. Believing in yourself is a very big step but once you’re there, I’m confident the rest will follow.
My own dreams continue to evolve and Tokyo this summer is a massive prospect for me - I’ve been counting down the days for a very long time! I’ve played at London and Rio but I feel I’m at a level right now where I can do well and hopefully go far in the event.
The Olympics are a tournament like no other; it’s not just about winning for yourself like we’re so used to, it’s about winning for your country and it’s also unbelievable to be around all the other sports too. I’m friends with many different athletes from Tunisia so it’s great to be around them, observing their routines and noting all of the nuances.
By the end of this year, I would love to break into the Top 10 or 15, and beyond that, I want to be world No.1 and win Grand Slams. I’ve competed against a lot of great players, which has given me the confidence to realise I definitely have what it takes to get there. Right now, I recognise that I’m not quite there - I have some work to do to find that missing ingredient but I fully believe that it is and will be achievable.