Ons Jabeur channels pain of final defeat to exact revenge on Elena Rybakina
Ons Jabeur found it too painful to rewatch last year’s Wimbledon final defeat by Elena Rybakina but she will happily take another look at the rematch.
The sixth seed, who also lost to Iga Swiatek in the US Open final last year, will take on second seed Aryna Sabalenka in the last four after fighting from a set down to defeat Rybakina 6-7 (5) 6-4 6-1.
Jabeur missed a set point in the opener but fought back impressively, hitting more winners and making fewer errors than her opponent, who has established a fledgling big three in the women’s game this season with Sabalenka and Swiatek.
Jabeur left it to her coach to analyse last year’s match, where she led by a set before Rybakina fought back.
“I couldn’t watch it,” she said. “Very, very difficult. Until this day, I couldn’t watch this match. I can watch today’s match. That’s OK.
“Even watching the Netflix (documentary) show was painful. If I watch the whole match, it would have been terrible.”
Jabeur certainly exorcised last year’s demons, coping much better with the pace of Rybakina’s ball, but with the result came a sense of what if.
“I wish we could exchange this match for the final last year,” she said wistfully during her on-court interview.
Later in the press room, she added: “I believe last year maybe I wasn’t ready to play this kind of match. I don’t regret last year. It happened for a reason. It was meant to be this year. It was meant to be in the quarter-finals.
“I have learned a lot from the final last year. Definitely very proud of myself for the improvement that I did mentally, physically, and with the tennis racket.”
The Queen was among the interested watchers from the Royal Box as the pair took to Centre Court.
When not giggling at umpire Kader Nouni’s deep voice, the crowd were again largely behind the likeable and flamboyant Jabeur, whose game and demeanour contrast so strikingly with stone-faced Rybakina.
It was the Kazakh who made the first move with a break to lead 3-1 but Jabeur did what none of Rybakina’s opponents had managed since Shelby Rogers in her first set of the tournament by breaking straight back.
A lovely angled backhand pass gave Jabeur a 6-5 lead and she created a set point serving for it only for Rybakina to force a tie-break with a series of fierce backhands.
The reigning champion then went on to take it, and Jabeur’s frustration threatened to boil over when Rybakina’s big serve came to her rescue down 0-40 in the second game of the second set.
Jabeur is known for her creativity on the court but what was notable here was how she was able to match and even out-hit Rybakina from the back of the court, stepping in to break serve again to clinch the second set.
She was imperious in the third, with Rybakina struggling to find her first serve and ultimately well beaten.
Jabeur believes her show of power bodes well for taking on Australian Open champion Sabalenka next in what will be another big test.
“I think I’m hitting better,” said the 28-year-old. “I’m more confident in my shots. Serve-wise, I think it’s getting better. And it definitely needs to get better, especially playing players like her or Aryna.
“But most of all I think I was hitting fast. If you want to hit hard, I’m ready to hit hard, too.
“It’s going to be a very difficult match. Probably her shouting that way, me shouting this way. I’m going to try my best to stay focused and take every opportunity.”
Rybakina was left to rue a difficult day on serve but was proud of her efforts in defending a grand slam title for the first time.
“For sure she was making better decisions from the court than last year, I would say,” said the third seed.
“I also had a lot of opportunities this time, especially in the second set. I felt that my serve wasn’t that great. It’s my weapon and it was not working that well.
“It was kind of a new challenge for me coming as a defending champion. It’s of course a different feeling. Actually I’m really proud of the first few matches because it’s not easy.
“I would say that every match I played was a little bit better than the other one. I think, no matter the result of today, it was a positive few weeks for me here.”