Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur ‘happy to be back’ in Big Apple ahead of US Open

NEW YORK: It feels great to be back in New York. Of course, the body is always a little bit tired when it’s the last Grand Slam of the season, but it is the last push of this campaign and I’m pretty happy to be back. Hopefully this time I’m going to do better. I like the US Open, but it’s always been a case of a third-round exit for me, so I want to push more and do better this time around.

I love New York and the US Open always coincides with my birthday but, unfortunately, I don’t get to celebrate much because I’m usually scheduled to play the next day, and that’s the case this year as well. I like busy cities, I like when there are a lot of things happening. I usually get bored easily, but never in New York. I get to walk in the streets, there are a lot of people, a lot of restaurants, Central Park is also not far from my hotel, so it’s nice to enjoy the mix of it all. Overall I love being here and I enjoy playing in New York in general.

The reaction back home in Tunisia after I made the Wimbledon final was different to anything I’ve ever experienced. We had a great celebration when I flew back. I feel like people definitely know me more; it’s nice to say that I cannot go out and have a coffee in Tunisia anymore; it’s definitely a good thing. It’s amazing to see that much support. I feel like the reaction is also different at various tournaments around the world; people are recognizing me even more and always bring up that they watched me during Wimbledon. I feel it’s amazing I got to do that. It’s very good to have people supporting you and telling you they’re going to buy tickets and come watch you. For me it’s really amazing to see so many kids who want to watch me and see me, I appreciate that so much.

I saw what Elena Rybakina said about not feeling like a real Wimbledon champion because we didn’t get points and our ranking didn’t go up as a result of our performances there. It does feel so weird. But this is something that has never happened before, the fact that there is a war and Russian and Belarusian players were banned and then the tours withheld ranking points from Wimbledon. This is a unique situation.

Obviously, Elena deserves to have the chance to qualify for the WTA Finals; she has the chance to be better-ranked. Her ranking at the moment (No.25) is not what she deserves to be honest. I think a lot of players didn’t benefit from Wimbledon. I know many players lost a lot of points from that. It’s a shame. But we started playing the tournament knowing there would be no points.

Unfortunately, it hurt even more when you reach the final and you win the tournament. I would have been relaxed about qualifying for the WTA Finals if I had 1,000 more points in my pocket, but it is what it is. It happened and I have to accept it. I deserve to be in this ranking (No.5) and I believe Elena will make it to the ranking she deserves, even if she doesn’t make it now, she will make it later.

There are definitely some cool perks you can enjoy on tour when you are a higher-ranked player. It depends on the tournament though. Some tournaments it’s the same if you’re seeded or not, but Wimbledon was amazing because we had the special locker rooms for the top seeds and it felt really special. It’s a very traditional space, the members are there and I felt privileged to be there. I felt like a member of the All England Club for two weeks.

At different tournaments, you just appreciate when you get a nice car to drive around, but I don’t like to get into luxury too much because sometimes it can make you forget where you come from. So, sometimes I like to go back and feel miserable a bit so I can remember and work harder to get even better.

It’s very important for me to stay the same person no matter how much success I am experiencing. It’s very natural for me to be that way; my parents raised me to always be humble and I think it’s a powerful message I’m trying to send out, that we are not just tennis players, we are human beings and for me being No.1 is the same as being No.1000. You’ve got to stay humble and do your thing. If you’re going to have a big head, your forehand will not be any better, it’s going to stay the same.

I got to practice with Serena Williams earlier this week ahead of the US Open. It was great and she was really cool. Now that she’s retiring, it’s sad to see her leave. Serena is leaving behind a huge legacy in the sport and it’s tough to choose just one thing to highlight from that legacy. One of the things I really admire is that she is a very successful tennis player but also a successful businesswoman. It’s really amazing to see how she balances her life. I feel like it’s very important to have a life outside of tennis because it gets too stressful when everything is about tennis. So I feel it’s important to have that balance. Also having a kid and coming back was amazing from Serena and I love seeing many tennis players doing that now. I feel like she played a part in encouraging other tennis players to do that. Overall, I’m very happy she chose to play tennis and I cannot wait to follow her journey as a businesswoman now. I’m definitely going to watch her US Open first round and if she wants me in her box, I’ll be there (laughs).

Looking ahead to this US Open, I would consider it to be a successful tournament for me if I at least reach the semi-finals; that would be good. And then we see how it goes. But definitely making the second week and breaking that third-round barrier is a big goal for me.

* Ons Jabeur was talking to Reem Abulleil in New York ahead of the 2022 US Open. She faces American Madison Brengle in the first round on Monday.