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“Minister of Happiness” Ons Jabeur becomes the first Arab tennis player to enter the world top 10

RIYAD: In his country of origin, Tunisia, they call him “Wazeerat Al Sa’ada” or “Minister of Happiness”, and with good reason.

As Ons Jabeur celebrated on Monday being the first Arab tennis player to enter the world’s top 10 after rising to 8th in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings, her hordes of fans felt they too had a reason. to dream big.

Fans of the 27-year-old Arab world have set their alarm clock every hour to follow her recent matches in the Indian Wells tournament, where she reached the biggest semi-final of her career and secured her debut in the top 10.

In a tumultuous political climate in Tunisia, Jabeur gave her compatriots “a reason to smile” – as one Twitter user put it – and she proved to herself, and to everyone, that a player Arab can indeed join the elite of sport at the Highest.

Innovative for Arab tennis, it not only has the support of fans in the Middle East and North Africa region; she has been embraced, figuratively and literally, by the sport to which she has devoted more than two decades of her life.

Speaking on the Tennis Channel Live podcast Friday, her idol, former world number 1 Andy Roddick, said: visit; every time she shakes hands, people hug her, she must be an amazing person too.

American Roddick is not wrong. Jabeur has won fans over with her exciting brand of tennis which features incredible variety, and she has also conquered the locker room by being one of the funniest and friendliest players on the tour.

By the time she won her quarterfinal at Indian Wells and secured her place in the world’s top 10, social media timelines were inundated with heartfelt congratulatory messages from her peers as well as sports legends.

From Billie Jean King to Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert to Tracy Austin, Jabeur’s historic feat has not gone unnoticed by many tennis greats.

Former world number one Andy Murray shared the news on Twitter with the caption: “This is very cool.”

Other players such as former US Open champion Sloane Stephens, Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady, Indian trailblazer Sania Mirza, quadruple Grand Slam winner Kim Clijsters and many more have celebrated Jabeur online, while former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka gushed at her at a press conference on Friday.

The two-time major champion said: “She’s the player of my dreams. I am such a fan of her. I think she’s amazing. The history it is making in the part of the world where sport is not necessarily accessible; I can’t wait to see how far it can go.

“Obviously, she’s an incredible player. The improvement she’s made all along, I wouldn’t necessarily talk about just this year, but the last couple of years, to really improve her game, improve her level of fitness. I am a big fan. I’m just a complete fan-girl here, ”Azarenka added.

The huge reaction to his latest feat took Jabeur by surprise, and it gave a welcome boost in his quest for further glory.

“It means a lot. Honestly, I didn’t expect Andy Murray, Navratilova or Billie Jean King to tweet about me. It’s amazing,” said Jabeur, who won his first WTA title earlier this week. year in Birmingham, before becoming the first Arab woman to qualify for the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in July.

“It shows how important it is for me to achieve this. Being recognized by legends, honestly, gives me even more power to work harder and be like them one day maybe, a Grand Slam champion.

With the release of the new rankings on Monday, Jabeur eclipsed Morocco’s Younes El-Aynaoui, whose career record of No.14 was the highest ever for an Arab tennis player before the crafty Tunisian arrived.

El-Aynaoui, now retired, has followed Jabeur’s career since winning the junior title at Roland-Garros (French Open) at the age of 16 in 2011.

El-Aynaoui told Arab News: “It was already an incredible achievement. We have to give him a lot of credit because being very strong very young and then waiting that long to win again, to perform well… but it took him a long time; she has finally found her stability, perhaps with the family, the husband, the coach.

“It’s just great to see her playing well tournament after tournament, it’s been almost two years now that she’s really at the top, and I also think there is a big opportunity in women’s tennis today.” , did he declare.

El-Aynaoui stressed that Jabeur’s “patience” and “perseverance” marked her the most when he looked at her career and he hoped that his success would inspire a new generation of young players in the Arab world and give a big boost to women’s sport. In the region.

“We saw the last US Open, the two female finalists were novices. I think it’s a good time for Ons. To be in the top 10 is already incredible, but I would love to see her, why not, win a slam or a second place in a slam, it would be even bigger I think “, he added.

With 48 wins to his name in 2021, Jabeur has won more games than any other player on the WTA Tour so far this season and is vying for a coveted qualifying spot in next month’s WTA Finals in Guadalajara, where the best eight in the world are ready to compete.

If she did qualify, she would become the first Arab player to qualify for an end-of-season championship and Jabeur is determined to write one more chapter in the history books before completing her year.

“The Top 10 that I know is just the start. I know I deserve this place, but I want to prove that I deserve to be here, I deserve to be one of the top 10 players, ”she said.

The North African will compete in Moscow this week and hope to land her ticket to the season finale.

She noted that it had been a stressful few weeks knowing that she had a real chance to advance to the final, while also acknowledging that there was a long list of players vying for the same goal.

“I’ve never been in this situation; I have never played so long; never been in the top 10 before. It’s a lot of things happening at the same time. This is what I worked for, this is what I want to believe, to accomplish.

“I finally accept, with maturity and enough experience, that this kind of pressure is a privilege, it is a pleasure to have it”, she added.

Jabeur not only manages the pressure of competition, she also carries the hopes of an entire region on her back, and she underlined how difficult it had been to find her way from a country like Tunisia that did not had not produced the best champions of the past.

“It is very different to come from my country than to be American, French or Australian. They don’t just have the example of seeing players playing in front of you, they have more tennis clubs, even more tournaments.

“I was rejected by the sponsors because of where I come from, which is not fair. I didn’t understand why before. I accepted it. I took care of it. I am really proud of the person that I have become today, without relying on the others.

“It gave me the courage to keep going and achieve my goals, and I’m in the top 10 today,” she said.

El-Aynaoui said that being the only person from a country or region on tour could have its advantages, as taking a new step or achieving a historic feat attracted more attention.

“I wouldn’t call it pressure, I would call it motivation, when you know you’re playing and behind you there’s a whole country and so many people supporting you, it gives you wings”, he added.

Jabeur accepts the pressure and believes it will prepare her for even more important things in the future.

“I’m trying so hard to calm down and deal with all this stress because I want to be a Grand Slam champion. If I want to do this, then I have to go through it. Hope I get through this without having a heart attack, ”she joked.

Judging by how his career has unfolded so far, it’s fair to assume the Minister of Happiness will be doing just fine.


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