HIGHLIGHTS: Jabeur pulls away from Maria in decider

What’s the biggest surprise of this year’s Wimbledon? The rise of Elena Rybakina? The (possible) reclamation of Nick Kyrgios? I might vote for the return of the slice, from both forehand and backhand sides, as a go-to weapon. We saw it in Harmony Tan’s first-round win over Serena Williams. We saw it in upset victories over the top two seeds by Alizé Cornet and Julie Niemeier. And on Thursday we saw its apotheosis in the semifinal between two of the tour’s premier chop artists and good friends, Ons Jabeur and Tatjana Maria.

Even if you’d never seen these two play before, it likely took less than a game to realize that this wasn’t going to be your average modern-day power-baseline affair. On the second point, Jabeur hit a forehand drop shot winner. Two points later, Maria countered with what can only be described as a hybrid backhand-drop shot: She dug under the ball and dropped it inside the service line, with hard backspin. Not to be outdone, Jabeur sent the backhand ballooning high over the net with sidespin. Maria closed the opening game with a slice volley winner.

“It was a tricky match,” Maria said afterward. “I knew she could also play a lot of slice, she likes to play drop shots. It was tricky in the first set. Yeah, at the beginning we had some really long games.”

On the Tunisian and the German went like that for the next two sets. Chop met chop, drop met drop, and finesse volleys by Maria met even better finesses passes from Jabeur. She hit one slice crosscourt winner with her body facing the back wall.


The moment of the tournament? This classy move is right up there.

The moment of the tournament? This classy move is right up there.

In the first, Jabeur showed why she’s ranked 101 spots ahead of Maria. Yes, she has the slice and the finesse; but unlike Maria, she also has the two-handed backhand drive. Maria, who switched from a two-hander to a one-hander, almost never comes over the ball on that side. Which means she could offer little resistance to deep balls from Jabeur; virtually all of them elicited a short, floating backhand reply from Maria.

In the second set, Maria showed the determined spirit that had seen her through four close three-setters in her five matches at Wimbledon. She started to win points with her serve, her forehand drive, and her volleys, while Jabeur lost the range with her shots.

What was lost was quickly and emphatically found. Jabeur began the third set with a jumping crosscourt backhand to secure a love hold. In retrospect, it was a sign that she recognized that slice and drops alone weren’t going to win her this match. Instead, she would rein in the risk, play a little more conventionally, and make the most of her power advantage. Jabeur committed just four errors in the third set, ran to a 5-0 lead, and closed out a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win.

“I guess the point, I was not serving really well, and in the third set she started to be more solid, she didn’t give me so many points anymore,” was how Maria summed it up. “I think this was making the difference.

My serve, the percentage went down, and she was more solid. I guess that’s why she won at the end.”


Jabeur is known for her flash, but it was the substance beneath that has her in her first Grand Slam final. It took Jabeur a while to get used to grass, but now she can’t get enough.

“I just love everything around here, the atmosphere and everything,” Jabeur said. “It was my main goal from the beginning of the season, and even from last year. Everything about the energy, I just love being here.”

The crowds love her back. When this match was over, Jabeur and Maria spent 15 seconds hugging at the net. Rather than take her bows by herself, Jabeur pulled Maria out to the middle of the court so they could soak in some of the applause together.

Jabeur goes by the nickname “Minister of Happiness” in Tunisia, and her spirit—as well as her slices—seem to be contagious at Wimbledon right now. We’ll see on Saturday if her personal style, and her game style, can triumph in the end.