Arts, Culture and Sport
Tennis star Ons Jabeur is Tunisia’s ‘minister of happiness’
The first African player to reach a major tennis final, she has set Wimbledon – and Tunisian hearts – ablaze.
Ons Jabeur from Tunisia has become the first African and the first Arab woman tennis player since 1968 to reach a tennis grand slam singles final. She’s done so at the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
The open or professional era in tennis started in 1968 and the grand slams are the world’s biggest tournaments – the US Open, the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon in the UK. Jabeur is also the highest ranked African and Arab player in open era history – currently second in the world.
On court Jabeur is a charismatic and loved figure, also playing in the women’s doubles with US trailblazer Serena Williams. But nowhere is she more loved than as a public figure at home in Tunisia, where she represents a new image for women’s sports.
Who is Ons Jabeur?
The tennis star was born on 28 August 1994 in Ksar Hellal, a small town in Tunisia. She comes from a middle class family and has two brothers and a sister. She started to become familiar with tennis at the age of three because her mother, an avid player, would take her along when she played on the tennis courts of hotels in the area.
Jabeur’s early success at the sport led to her integration into Tunisia’s system of sport and studies, first in elementary school at a tennis centre promoting the sport, and then in the high school sports academy, El Menzah, in the capital Tunis. Here, her game was gradually shaped.
Her first international career high came in 2011 when she won the French Open junior tournament. Her record is particularly rich on the Women’s Tennis Association circuit – organised by the principal international body of women’s professional tennis. Jabeur has won three singles tournaments and reached seven finals. In May 2022 her win at the Madrid Open made her the first Tunisian, Arab and African player to win a WTA 1000 tournament.
Jabeur’s recent successes at tournaments in Rome and Berlin show a new level of technicality and determination.
Women’s tennis legend Williams, making her 2022 return to competition in doubles, chose Jabeur as partner. Dubbed “Onserena” they played together with great passion and joy, delighting television viewers and social media users.
Why Tunisia loves her
Tunisians fondly call Jabeur the country’s “minister of happiness”. Firstly because she’s so often seen smiling. Secondly because she thrills with her repeated successes on court. In Tunisia, young and old, men and women, are increasingly tuning in to TV broadcasts to follow her matches live.
Hashtags like #OnsTounes and #DreamsComeTrue ignite across social media networks, along with Jabeur’s images. Messages of love, admiration and pride are widely shared.
During the coronavirus pandemic she raised funds to help buy medical equipment for Tunisia. She also raises funds for development centres like Talan Tunisia and schools.
Jabeur’s technical team is also Tunisian. Coach Issam Jellali is a former professional player. Her physical trainer is Karim Kamoun, a former professional fencer who is also her husband. Tunisie Telecom, the country’s telecommunications operator, is one of her main sponsors.
Thanks to Jabeur, there is a growing interest in women’s sport and women athletes in Tunisia and across the Arab world. Images of men and soccer are no longer the only sports images dominating the internet.
Changing the image of sport
In world tennis, Jabeur represents sportsmanship. In the final of the Berlin Open her opponent Belinda Bencic injured her ankle. Jabeur had won, but her only concern was to hurry over and comfort Bencic and help prepare a cooler of ice cubes for her injury.
For Tunisians she is an example of perseverance and success, a role model for young people. The image of the sport is changing with each of Jabeur’s international appearances. Tennis is no longer considered an elitist game played by men.
In the era of globalised communication, she participates in the staging of a story still in progress – about Tunisian women and their growing visibility and influence. In the process she gives visibility to Tunisia and a whole continent with it.
Monia Lachheb, Professor of Sociology, Université de la Manouba
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.