With the hopes of a country and continent and a world of tennis fans feeling it was too late to get them to date, Ons Jabeur fell agonizingly short. For the second time at Wimbledon, and the third time in one year at a Grand Slam, Jabeur hoped to become the first woman from Tunisia, the first woman from Africa and the first Arabic speaker to win a women’s major tournament.
The pressure of playing for lots and lots may have caught up to her again.
“Honestly, I felt a lot of pressure, I felt a lot of stress,” Jaber said on Saturday after losing the women’s singles final, 6-4, 6-4 to Marketa Vondrousova. “But like every final, like every game I’ve played, I’ve been saying to myself, ‘It’s okay, it’s normal. ‘ I honestly didn’t do anything wrong.”
For years on tour, Jabeur has done everything right, except to win the title that she and her fans so desire. Tears again flowed down Center Court, as Jabeur joined the likes of Andy Murray and Jana Novotna, two Wimbledon finalists, each weeping after losing the finals of what he hoped would be their great tournaments.
Jabeur, who lost last year’s Wimbledon final – and last US Open final – struggled against Vondrousova, who won to become the first unseeded Wimbledon women’s champion.
Soon after, during the stadium ceremonies, Jabeur collapsed, her pink eyes wiping tears as she spoke to the spectators, and carried the runner-up trophy up like a dirty plate. She described it as the “most painful loss” of her career. Then, as she pulled into the elegant aisles of Wimbledon’s main court, Catherine, Princess of Wales, offered a consoling hug.
“I told her her hugs are always welcome from me,” said Jabeur, who needed the same shoulder last year after losing to Elena Rybakina in the final.
The Duchess of Kent gave another famous royal hug in 1993 to Novotna, after Novotná lost to Steffi Graf in the final and started crying during the award ceremony. Five years later, Novotna has won it all.
In 2012, Murray was so torn after losing to Roger Federer in the final, he was barely able to speak to the fans – and to the nation – during his speech on the court. Carrying the hopes of British sports fans craving a first men’s champion in 77 years into their home Grand Slam, Murray’s voice cracked and he dipped his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. A few weeks later, he won the US Open, and the following year he won Wimbledon, defeating Novak Djokovic, this year’s men’s finalist who plays on Sunday against Carlos Alcaraz.
There is precedent, and perhaps some luck, for famous players showing vulnerability and shedding a tear after a huge loss. Jabeur also received a hug from Kim Clijsters, who lost four Grand Slam finals before finally winning the 2005 US Open. She eventually ended her career with four Grand Slam titles, one for every loss.
“It brings back a lot of memories and ideas about how to do it,” Clijsters said in an interview Saturday after the game. “I was trying to remember the process you went through. There’s no real secret, it’s just trying to give yourself the chance to get to that stage again.”
At the 2001 French Open, Clijsters aimed to become the first Belgian woman to win a major tournament. She lost to Jennifer Capriati, 12-10, in the epic third set, one day after her 18th birthday. Clijsters said she would have been too young to handle all the attention, scrutiny and challenges on the court if she had won that day.
Jabeur, who turns 29 in August, feels more than ready to win. But the pressure only increases with each failed attempt. Clijsters noted that Jabeur had poor body language on Saturday, retreating after mistakes and not showing any positive emotions after a good shot.
Clijsters said: “It shows that there was a lot of doubt during the game.” “The most important thing you have to learn is to fake it. Fake it until you make it.”
Faking it can be difficult for Jaber, who is as real as she is talented. One of the many reasons why fans are drawn to her. As the No. 6 seed, she played brilliantly here, avenging last year’s devastating losses to No. 3 Rybakina in the quarterfinals and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals. Many thought it was Jabeur’s time, making the loss more saddening and sympathetic than even the Vondrousova camp.
“When I saw her, I started crying too,” said Vondrousova’s husband Stepan Semik. “Owens is a very beautiful human being. She has a kind heart and is very friendly with opponents, and even with me. I was so sad because she deserves to be a Grand Slam champion. She will do it one day.”