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Back from the brink in Cincy, Ons Jabeur learning to shoulder “a lot of pressure”
If the Tunisian is looking for ways to put the Wimbledon final behind her, her comeback victory over home favorite Caty McNally in Cincinnati on Wednesday was a good place to start.
Published Aug 17, 2022
WATCH: Ons Jabeur speaks with Tennis Channel following her 2022 Cincinnati second round match.
Ons Jabeur said something a little unexpected after her thrilling 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7) win over Caty McNally on Wednesday.
“I know there’s a lot of pressure on me,” she told the crowd in Cincinnati.
It wasn’t this audience that was putting pressure on Jabeur to win. McNally was born in the Cincy suburbs, and 99 percent of the fans were fully behind her. McNally brought them to their feet for each of her three match points, only to see Jabeur silence them again with a series of clutch shots.
Down 6-7 in the third-set tiebreaker, with the stadium pleading for her to miss one more time, Jabeur fired a service winner, an ace, and then watched as a McNally backhand sailed just past the sideline. Over two hours and 23 minutes, the Tunisian and the American each won 103 points, but Jabeur won the last three.
“I’m happy that after that long, I got to win the match,” Jabeur said with a tired smile when it was over.
If Jabeur is feeling “a lot of pressure,” it surely comes from the fact that, as the first Arab player to scale the game’s heights, she feels like she has an entire section of the planet on her shoulders. Suddenly, she’s the person who has a chance to open this Western sport to the non-Western world.
Jabeur seems to welcome the task. She says she wants to get more people from Tunisia to play tennis, and she’s been dubbed her nation’s Minister of Happiness for her sense of humor and easygoing disposition. Even after losing the Wimbledon final from a set up, to a player seeded 14 spots behind her, Jabeur kept smiling.
“You stole my title,” she told the woman who beat her, Elena Rybakina, on Centre Court, “but that’s OK.”
Afterward, Jabeur insisted she didn’t regret a thing about losing the biggest match of her career.
“You know, that’s tennis, there’s only one winner,” she said. “It’s a great first experience for me."
Asked what she would say to the millions of people who were pulling for her, she said, “I would love to thank them. I really cannot wait to play my next tournament…This is just the beginning of so many things.”
Those upbeat words aside, Jabeur struggled to bounce back right away. She lost in the second round in San Jose to Veronika Kudermetova, and had to retire down 6-1, 2-1 to Quinwen Zhang in Toronto.
In McNally, she was facing a talented shot-maker and a crowd favorite, but also someone ranked 179th in the world. Jabeur appeared to be on her way to a defeat when she fell behind 0-30 while serving at 5-4, but she rescued herself by playing four aggressive and self-assured points. She looked like she was out of it again when she went down 15-40 while serving at 5-6; but again she reeled off four straight points. Finally, in the deciding tiebreaker, it looked as if McNally was about to steal the match when she came back from 4-6 down to lead 7-6. But Jabeur tuned out the crowd and used her serve to rally yet again, this time for the win.
I’m happy that after that long, I got to win the match. Ons Jabeur
Jabeur seems to be a person who can roll with the ups and downs of the tour, and keep her perspective. She says her career is just getting started, and even though she’ll turn 28 next week, it’s hard to argue with her. She has the type of wide-ranging talent that can take a while to get organized, and she’s playing the best tennis of her life this year.
Still, having a Wimbledon title stolen out from under you—and your many supporters—has to sting. Beating Caty McNally won’t be the biggest win of Jabeur’s career, but doing it the way she did has to feel good right now.