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Ons Jabeur is full of surprises


Ons Jabeur during her United States Open final against Iga Swiatek in September.

By Cindy Shmerler


Ons Jabeur, a finalist at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this year, is ranked a career-high No. 2. But the Tunisian star has never qualified for the year-end WTA Finals until this year, when she will be among the eight women competing in singles in Fort Worth, Texas.


Jabeur, 28, the highest-ever-ranked African and Arab tennis player, combines deceptively fast foot speed with an ability to unnerve opponents with her spins, dips and drop shots. She said in a video call that sometimes when she saw a player try unsuccessfully to chase down one of her shots she had a hard time hiding a grin.


The following interview has been edited and condensed.


Q: Have you ever been to Texas before?


A: No, that’s why I’m going 10 days early, just so that I have time to adapt to the weather, to the court, to the round-robin system and everything else. And to try all the barbecue food they have.


Q: Would you call yourself the riskiest player on the WTA Tour?


A: I like to surprise everyone not knowing what shot I’m going to go for. It can also put me at risk at the same time, but it’s good. I love the adrenaline about it.


Q: During your first eight years on tour you couldn’t break into the world’s Top 100. Do you think it was more technical, more tactical or more psychological?


A: I think it was a little bit of everything. I was training hard. In my head I was doing everything right, but then during the matches I wasn’t patient enough to hold a long rally. Maybe I wasn’t fit enough at certain times to really back up my game because if you make people run you have to run as well.


Q: You played a lot of lower-level tournaments without making it to the WTA level. What kept you going?


A: I think knowing deep inside that I belonged at the level to be one of the best tennis players really helped. And a lot of experts told me that my game was really different. Having too many options as a tennis player — slices, drop shots, hitting hard — is tough. I had to put in my mind that I can do anything but that I had to become more organized. Plus, I used to be everywhere, just traveling with a suitcase, and I didn’t have a base or a home. As soon as I got organized everything became clearer for me, and all I needed to worry about was playing tennis.


Q: What was the turning point for you?


A: In 2018, I was at a good level but not the one I expected to be at. I got a little mad and told myself: “This is enough. I really need to go full and not stay in between.” Do whatever it takes to go forward and give myself the chance to be one of the best.


Q: Everyone talks about how popular you are with the other players and how you’re the minister of happiness. So what makes you mad?


A: A lot of things make me mad, trust me. One of them is if my drop shot doesn’t work. I don’t like that. I like to be punctual. When people promise me something I like that they stick to it. I like good food, so bad food makes me angry as well. (Her favorite food is market loubia, a Tunisian white bean stew.)


Q: What’s your message to all those young women who are trying to be the next Ons Jabeur?

A: A lot of people say you have to have a certain technique or certain ways to be fit. But every player is different, and you should play with what is yours. We’ve all been there. Just be patient and your time will come.


Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself?


A: I always believe that I want to stay the person that I am. I don’t want to change to be No. 2 in the world or No. 2,000. There are a lot of players out there who can achieve even better than me. And that’s what the game is about. For me, the tennis career is short, so I want to be remembered as a great person, not just a great tennis player.

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