Ons Jabeur won’t let her dream die despite more Wimbledon final heartbreak

Tunisian star failed to take advantage of leads in both sets as Marketa Vondrousova makes history

When Ons Jabeur was asked if the fact that Kim Clijsters, Chris Evert and Simona Halep had all lost their first three singles Grand Slam finals was of any comfort to her after her Wimbledon defeat to Marketa Vondrousova on Centre Cort on Saturday, she replied firstly with a correction.

“Four actually. We were crying together at the locker room,” she said of her close friend Clijsters, who lost her first four before beating Mary Pierce at the US Open in 2005.

At 28-years-old her hopes of becoming the first Arab woman to win Wimbledon is becoming an increasingly narrow window of opportunity. Players in their 30s have won Wimbledon before. Serena Williams beat Spain’s Garbine Muguruza in the final in 2016 as a 34-year-old. Then, she was collecting her seventh singles title, having won her first aged 20.

“Definitely this match, last year’s match, the final of the US Open, will teach me how to win these finals,” added Jabeur, who lost in straight sets to Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 6-4.


It seems an aspect of human nature that the fact of Jabeur losing had as great an impact as Vondrousova winning, although the Czech became the first unseeded woman to win the championship since they were introduced in 1924, beating five seeds along the way. She came into the tournament with car crash stats on grass. Played 10, won two.

Still, her breathless overreach earned her a first Grand Slam four years after making the final of the French Open as a 19-year-old.

Jabeur appeared to carry far more pressure on to Centre Court than the normal stress of winning the final and for that she suffered. A first serve that didn’t match up and a run of unforced errors that crippled her through the one hour and 20 minutes.

The bald fact is that Jabeur was 3-1 in both sets and didn’t find the game that earlier knocked out world number one Iga Swiatek. Her backhand was off, her serving didn’t put Vondrousova under consistent pressure and her errors didn’t stop growing throughout the match, 31 in all.

The strong parts of the Jabeur game crumbled under the weight of the occasion against a left hander who changed up play enough to cause her opponent to never fully feel comfortably controlling the match.

From 4-2 up in the first set, Jabeur conceded four games in a row to hand it over meekly. It could so easily have been 5-1 to the Tunisian. Again, she went 3-1 up in the second set and with good defensive play from the Czech player tightened up as balls went long and into the net. Losing five of the last six games to the 24-year-old, Vondrousova lunged at the net for a final volley to close the match.

“I didn’t play good,” said Jabeur. “I didn’t think I played good today. So many things that I should have maybe done. Not serving well did not help. Also Marketa returns every ball. Even if I did a good serve, she was there. That didn’t help my serve much. My backhand wasn’t here today.

“I didn’t serve really well. I was able to break both times, but very difficult. I didn’t have the feeling I was controlling my serve. I was maybe troubling her a little bit. So that’s why it was very difficult for me to win that serve game. Yeah, I wish I was able to hold, especially in the first set. Maybe it could have been a different match.”

Because of the wind the roof was closed, which may have been a helpful factor for Vondrousova, who plays a lot indoors in the Czech Republic.

“I always play good indoors. I was like, yeah, maybe that’s going to help me,” she said. “We practice in Prague in winter indoors.”

Left-handed Czech-born women’s singles champions at Wimbledon have not been uncommon over the years as Martina Navratilova won the title nine times from 1978 to 1990 (she subsequently took out US citizenship but regained Czech nationality in 2009) and Petra Kvitova more recently in 2011 and 2014.

Jana Novotna, the 1998 Wimbledon champion joins Vondrousova as the fourth Czech woman winner, Jabeur now hoping the US Open that begins in New York at the end of August is where she can finally bring it home for Arab and African women.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times