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Ons Jabeur: Tunisian tennis star makes history with Madrid Open win

Ous Jabeur becomes the first Arab to win the Madrid Open
Tunisia's 'Minister of Happiness' makes tennis history
Jabeur, 27, will next compete in the French Open later this month (AFP/Pierre-Philippe Marcou)

Ons Jabeur has become the first Arab tennis player to win the Madrid Masters Tournament, making history on the international tennis courts.

Jabeur, 27, played in this week's Madrid Open against American Jessica Pegula, winning the match and the tournament, making it Jabeur’s second career title after winning the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) title in Birmingham, UK last year.

Jabeur said after the match in Spain: "I'm not just playing for myself… I play for my country, for the Arab world, for the African continent."

'I'm not just playing for myself… I play for my country, for the Arab world, for the African continent'

- Ons Jabeur

Dubbed the "Minister of Happiness", or "Wazeerat al Sa’ada" in Arabic, by her countryfolk, Jabeur's win has been seen as giving Tunisians a reason to smile.

She said: "I honestly still can't believe it. I went through a roller coaster of emotions during the past few days, just after the semi-final. I was really stressed trying to breathe.

"I really didn't want to get disappointed again. I thought my heart was going out of my chest today. I'm very happy and trying to realise that I won today really."

Born in Ksar Hellal, a small town in northeastern Tunisia, Jabeur grew up in the nearby coastal city of Sousse and started playing tennis young. 

Her mother Samira, who dabbled in the sport recreationally at her tennis club in Sousse, encouraged a three-year-old Jabeur to pick up her first racket and play the sport.

Ons Jabeur started playing tennis aged three after being introduced to the sport by her mother (AFP/Gabriel Bouys)
Ons Jabeur started playing tennis aged three after being introduced to the sport by her mother (AFP/Gabriel Bouys)

By the age of six, Jabeur was already competing in national tournaments, and internationally four years later. Aged 12, she moved 90 miles to the capital Tunis where she trained at Lycee Sportif El Menzah, a multi-sport national academy for emerging Tunisian talents. 

She made her debut in a junior Grand Slam tournament at the US Open in 2009, and the following year reached the final of the junior French Open. 

It was in 2011, aged 16, when she came to international attention, winning the French Open girls’ championship to become the first Arab woman to win a junior Grand Slam title. 

Since then, the former child prodigy has gone on to continue setting records and entering uncharted territory. 

Highest ranking woman

In 2017, she became the second Arab woman to break into the world’s top 100, and is now the highest-ranked woman from the region in history. 

She reached the quarter final of the Australian Open in 2020, the furthest a North African and Arab woman has reached in a Grand Slam, matched only by her run at last year's Wimbledon where she made it to the quarter finals. 

She recently spoke out over Wimbledon's decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players in this year's Championship following the invasion of Ukraine, insisting politics and sports should not mix.

She said: "It's a very tough decision, I understand what the Ukrainian people are going through and I am totally against war... But what I've always been told for so many years is to never mix sports and politics."

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In June of last year, she won the first WTA title of her career, defeating Russia's Daria Kasatkina to win the 2021 Birmingham Classic. In doing so, she became the first Tunisian and Arab to win a WTA title. 

She is coached by former Tunisian Davis Cup player Issam Jellali, and her Tunisian-Russian husband Karim Kamoun, a former fencer, has been her fitness coach since 2017. 

Fluent in Arabic, English and French, and learning Russian, the polyglot has promised she will return to Spain next year, having learnt more Spanish.

Once rejected by sponsors, she has said it was “because of where I come from, which is so not fair. I didn't understand why before. I accepted it. I dealt with it." 

However with her stratospheric rise, she will no doubt now have sponsors rushing to work with her. Jabeur will be one to watch at the Paris French Open starting later this month.