Among the long list of milestones that Ons Jabeur has checked off, her latest masterpiece could be the most significant of the lot. Despite the high-profile exits of Karolina Pliskova and Iga Swiatek, and the absence of World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka, there are major subplots coming out from this year’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
Ons Jabeur will crack the Top 10 of the WTA Rankings on Monday
Shortly after dispatching Anna Kalinskaya 6-2 6-2 in the Round of 16 on Tuesday, Jabeur secured her passage into the quarterfinals in Indian Wells for the first time. And more importantly, she is now guaranteed to break the world’s Top 10, also for the first time. That is a phenomenal achievement even by her own standards.
Considering she is the only Tunisian in the top-tier of women’s tennis right now, every time she steps on the court she makes history for her country. The decibel levels in Tunisia most certainly went off the roof when she won her maiden WTA title in Birmingham in June. At Wimbledon, she became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam singles tournament.
The victory over the Russian Kalinskaya on Tuesday night was her 47th match win of an astonishing season. It is not just a career-best, but an unrivaled record on the WTA leaderboard in 2021. Jabeur is a household name back home. But the 27-year-old is slowly turning heads from all corners of the world.
In the WTA Race, which accounts for points earned in 2021, Jabeur has now passed Naomi Osaka and occupies the final eighth spot in the rankings. Now that she is the possessor of her own destiny, she is odds-on to qualify for the season-ending finale in Guadalajara.
What next for Tunisia’s Trailblazer?
For now, Ons Jabeur has a mouthwatering quarterfinal clash against Anett Kontaveit for contemplation. Beyond that, there is a slew of big-hitters still lurking in the draw who could deny her a maiden WTA 1000 title in California.
Over half of her 17 defeats this season can be attributed to her inability to solve the power puzzle. The likes of Aryna Sabalenka, Petra Kvitova, Jessica Pegula, Jelena Ostapenko, and Belinda Bencic–to name a few–have tasted success in the wake of Jabeur’s rapidly improving game. It is a striking stat considering she has mastered pretty much every trick shot in the book.
However, it is pertinent to note that she tends to shift into a higher gear and grows increasingly confident in her next assignment. After losing to Garbine Muguruza in the Chicago final a fortnight ago, Jabeur played Danielle Collins in the second round at Indian Wells. Collins is an opponent very much in the Spaniard’s mold.
And this time, Jabeur had come prepared. She set a measured pace between points and her groundstroke depth proved too much to handle for the 22nd seed. She dropped just three games, handing Collins one of her shortest defeats of the season. Aside from that, she has posted five Top 10 victories this year. So she should feel good about her chances of lifting the title this weekend.
What makes Ons Jabeur so special?
Jabeur, to put it mildly, is a dropshot artiste. It is hard to imagine one shot setting the stage for a dominant year, aside from a big serve. When Jabeur twists her upper body and opens her racket, most of her opponents are beaten even before she pulls the trigger. She has a way of doing things that only she knows how.
But there is more to more her burgeoning game than her repeated use of dropshots or backhand slices between points. There has been a paradigm of learning in the past couple of seasons.
Jabeur has refined her game and plays with a higher level of maturity at her age. She has developed a punchy first-serve that accounts for the sixth most aces on tour in 2021. She has incorporated the squash shot–the last-resort play that she uses with immaculate composure even when her back is against the wall. And to top it all off, there is a general fluidity from her baseline groundstrokes.
Off the court, Jabeur has risen to become a prominent and influential athlete in the Arab world. By her own admission, she wants her breakthrough on the professional tour to serve as a springboard to even greater success for future generations in North Africa and the Middle East.
“It is amazing, but I don’t want the journey to stop here,” Jabeur said in relation to her recent rise at this year’s Wimbledon. ”I want to continue. I am more confident on the court. And I hope the young generation is watching and I can inspire all of them.”
Jabeur is no longer a player with a fluke shot. She is now a perfectionist at what she does. There is a curious debate swirling around the future of women’s tennis. Right now, consistency is Jabeur’s biggest asset. And in a tour which at times personifies the complete opposite, there is a genuine prospect of Tunisia’s finest tennis player reaching the top of the mountain.
Main Photo from Getty.