Saturday 7 May 2022 is a date etched into Ons Jabeur’s memory. On that day, the Tunisian player won the biggest title of her career at the Mutua Madrid Open, defeating Jessica Pegula in three sets in the final. As she says in this interview, the victory was “a relief”, and it showed her she was ready to win on the big stage.
The Tunisian, who has since reached No. 2 in the world, her highest position in the WTA Ranking, will now be faced with the tough mission of defending her crown in the Caja Mágica, something no player has done since 2017. However, if she pulls it off, she has promised to celebrate it somewhere very special.
Question. Winning in Madrid allowed you to dream of the Top 5 in the world. Twelve months later, you’ve managed to keep your place in that elite group. What has Ons Jabeur learnt over the last year?
Ons Jabeur. I’ve learned a lot from it. It was huge for me. Staying in the Top 5 was really amazing and I hope I can keep doing that. Maintaining that position is priceless.
After winning the final you fell to your knees on the clay, overwhelmed with emotion as you searched for your team. What are your memories of that joyful moment?
OJ. So much happiness and a moment I had been waiting for for a long time. Thankful for winning in Madrid really, that moment just felt like a relief.
This will be the first time you’ve played as defending champion at a WTA 1000 tournament. How do you think you’ll feel when you take to the Manolo Santana Stadium again?
OJ. Oh, wow I feel stressed already, but my plan is to take it one match at a time. It’s such an honour for me to start as a defending champion. I can’t wait to be there and play more tennis.
You’re a big music fan. What’s on your playlist at the moment? Do you have a special song you listen to before matches?
OJ. I listen to a lot of songs. Right now, I like the rapper NF. He’s really talented. So I try to motivate myself and listen to these songs to go on court and be ready to do my job.
You always seem humble, warm and friendly… How do you keep your feet on the ground after the success you’ve enjoyed?
OJ. That’s all that matters to me. Being arrogant won’t get me anywhere. People come to watch me, support me. The least I can do is smile for them. It’s important to remember that we’re all human and the same. Be kind always.
You’re one of the biggest sports stars from your part of the world. What would you like to achieve for all the sports fans that follow you and share your roots?
OJ. I’d like to achieve my goals. Win a Grand Slam, be number 1, but I know everything takes time. Hopefully I can make it and I believe in myself. I know I can do it. So, whatever it takes, I will be ready for it.
Tennis fans admire the versatility of your game. You’re a very individual player, how would you like to be remembered?
OJ. For me, results come last. But it is important for me to be remembered by my smile, my character.
You grew up playing on clay and it’s a surface you have mastered, but at this tournament the conditions are a little different. What’s the most difficult thing about trying to win the Mutua Madrid Open?
OJ. I usually adapt to the conditions of the tournament. At the beginning it can be tricky. I think that was the most difficult part.
You’re a self-confessed Real Madrid fan and last year you missed a great match against Manchester City. Do you plan to make up for it this time?
OJ. Yeah, I love Real Madrid so much! I was so sad I missed the match last year. It was an historical one! But not so sad, because after all I won the tournament! It was a good decision by me. I really want to go watch one of the Real Madrid matches. That would be a dream come true.
Have you had the chance to enjoy the city of Madrid? What’s your favourite thing about the capital?
OJ. Not really, I haven’t had the chance to visit many things. Hopefully I’ll do it this year. You have to show me around!
Spain is a country with Arabic roots. Have you ever visited any of the country’s famous sights?
OJ. Unfortunately I haven’t visited any sights. Hopefully I can do it in the future!
Only Serena Williams and Simona Halep have successfully defended their titles in Madrid. Can you make us any promises about how you’ll celebrate or what you’ll do if you join them this year?
OJ. If I can defend my title that would be amazing. It’s a good challenge for me, thank you for telling me this. I will try my best. I’ll definitely do everything in my power. Maybe we can have a great celebration in the Real Madrid stadium!