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Jabeur, Rybakina in shock Wimbledon women’s final

Wimbledon is ready to embrace a women’s final few could ever have imagined – the smiling Tunisian pioneer dubbed the “Minister of Happiness” against a shy soul who deserted Russia to become a Kazakhstan trailblazer.

Ons Jabeur versus Elena Rybakina has come a little from left field, but one of the two will now deservedly annex the title vacated by the retired Ash Barty.  

Jabeur became the first African and Arab woman in the 55-year professional era to reach the final and she’ll now face Kazakhstan’s maiden finalist in a ground-breaking showdown for international tennis on Saturday.

Jabeur had to dismantle the fairytale run of her great friend, Tatjana Maria, to get to her pioneering destination on centre court on Thursday.

Mum-of-two Maria’s outlandish late-career run to the semi-finals at 34 has enchanted the tournament, but Jabeur, known to the German’s kids as ‘Aunt Ons’, eventually spoiled their fun, winning 6-2 3-6 6-1.

Rybakina, the 17th seed, then ruthlessly dispatched Romania’s 2019 champion Simona Halep 6-3 6-3 in the second semi-final, demonstrating the power and precision honed in Russia and perfected in Kazakhstan, which four years ago offered her the resources to persuade her to switch allegiances.

Halep simply couldn’t cope with the relentless aggression and thumping power of the 23-year-old, who’d knocked out Ajla Tomljanovic in three quarter-final sets.

It was hard not to feel sympathy for Moscow-born Rybakina, who spent her news conference answering questions about her background in the light of the All England Club having banned all Russians this year over the invasion of Ukraine.

“Most of the time I spend on tour. I practice in Slovakia between the tournaments. I had camps in Dubai. So I don’t live anywhere, to be honest,” she said wearily when pressed on her current Moscow connections, having already declared how much she wanted to see peace. 

As shy in demeanour on the court as she’s a commanding powerhouse on it, Rybakina cuts a very different figure to Jabeur, four years her senior, who told the centre court: “I’m a proud Tunisian woman standing here today.

“I just try to inspire really as much as I can – I want to see, not just Tunisian, but more Arab and African players on tour.”

Jabeur’s now the world No.2 so this breakthrough was overdue, and she looks increasingly comfortable on the big stage with her lovely, all-court game that takes a leaf out of the Barty book.

She also revels in the ‘Minister of Happiness’ moniker bestowed on her by her adoring compatriots. “It’s nice of them to call me that. It’s really unbelievable. It’s funny because the actual minister calls me, ‘Hello, Minister’!

“It’s tough times in Tunisia sometimes. When they see my matches, always say sports always unites people. I’m happy they follow me. They’re pushing me to do better. Hopefully I can keep the title forever.”

Watched by Australian Margaret Court, the last mother-of-two to make the semi-finals at Wimbledon 47 years ago, Maria found the ‘real’ Jabeur materialising in the final set of a most entertaining contest.

The two great buddies embraced warmly at the end. 

“She has to make me a barbecue now to make up for all the running she made me do!” laughed Jabeur.

“I definitely wanted to share the moment with her because she’s an inspiration to so many players, including me. 

“Coming back after having two babies? I still can’t believe how she did it.”

Wimbledon Final Stats


Age: 27

Born: Ksar El Hellar, Tunisia 

Ranking: 2

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US6,244,915

Career titles: 3

Grand slam titles: 0

Wimbledon win-loss record: 11-4

Best Wimbledon result: finalist 2022


Age: 23

Ranking: 23

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US3,533,236

Career titles: 2

Grand slam titles: 0

Wimbledon win-loss record: 9-1

Best Wimbledon result: finalist 2022


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