Ons Jabeur makes #RolandGarros history for Arab women


PARIS – Ons Jabeur became the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam on Wednesday.

The 22-year-old Tunisian, ranked at 114, defeated sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-4 6-3 at the French Open, having earned her place in the main draw as a ‘lucky loser’ after being beaten in qualifying.

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Ons Jabeur displays her Tunisian flag after defeating Dominika Cibulkova at the French Open. Photo: David Vincent, APThe straight-sets victory over Dominika Cibulkova was the first over a top-10 player for Ons Jabeur. Photo: ReutersDominika Cibulkova has been battling with a wrist injury in the build-up to the French Open. Photo: David Vincent, AP

Jabeur, who had never won a match at the majors before her visit to Paris, has now bettered the previous best by an Arab woman at the Slams.

That mark was set by compatriot Selima Sfar, who made the second round at Roland Garros twice, three times at Wimbledon and once at the US Open.

Jabeur, who was the French Open girls’ champion in 2011, goes on to face Swiss 30th seed and 2015 semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky for a place in the last-16.

“I am very happy to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time,” added Jabeur, who proudly waved a Tunisian flag on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

“The fans here and all the Tunisians really helped me.”

Jabeur hailed the help she has received from Sfar, a trailblazer for Arab women’s tennis.

“She is such a great inspiration, she always comes to help me and support me,” said Jabeur, who fired 30 winners to 2009 semi-finalist Cibulkova’s 13, taking the match when her opponent double-faulted.

Jabeur only squeezed into the main draw when Germany’s Laura Siegemund was forced to withdraw through injury.

Gloria Pizzichini was the last ‘lucky loser’ to reach the third round in Paris in 1996. Nicole Jagerman of the Netherlands was the only ‘lucky loser’ to make the fourth round in Paris in 1988.

Jabeur’s win has already guaranteed her the biggest pay day of her career with €118 000 (about R1.73 million) guaranteed for third-round players.

“This is a second chance for me. Now I will do everything I can to continue on this path,” added the Paris-based Jabeur.

Ons Jabeur reacts shortly before defeating Dominika Cibulkova. Photo: David Vincent, AP

She also believes her victory is an important step forward for women’s tennis in the Arab world, and is prepared for the extra scrutiny. “Tunisia is a very small country, but I feel it has got a bit bigger,” she said.

“It’s an honour to represent the Arab world and Africa.”

However, she said her unexpected run means she will have to defer her Ramadan fasting obligations until her Roland Garros adventure ends.

“I cannot go without eating or drinking, but after the tournament I will give it back, day by day. I won’t be able to do the 30 days, but I have time to do it before the next Ramadan,” she explained after her first career win over a top-10 player.

Cibulkova arrived in Paris under an injury cloud, having been forced to wear a cast on her wrist earlier in the season.

She played just three clay court matches before Roland Garros.

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