TUNIS, Tunisia (AP)Ons Jabeur – the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam tennis final – is such a star in her homeland that her father calls her ”the daughter of all Tunisia” and the government wants to make her a special ambassador.
Her rise to the Wimbledon final has been followed with fervor in Tunisia, where fans are welcoming the rare ray of good news for a country facing a protracted economic crisis and worsening political tensions.
Jabeur faces Elena Rybakina in Saturday’s final after beating Tatjana Maria 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 on Thursday to also become the first African woman to reach a major final in the professional era.
Though tennis is not a major sport in Tunisia, Jabeur’s matches are watched nationwide.
”We have been able to create new habits for the average Tunisian, who now follows the matches at home and in cafes,” Jabeur’s father, Ridha, said on Mosaique FM radio after his daughter’s semifinal win.
”Ons is now the daughter of all of Tunisia, and not just mine,” he said.
One fan called her a ”a life-saving breath of fresh air.”
The 27-year-old Jabeur has been one of the best players on tour in recent months, rising to No. 2 in the rankings and winning a grass-court title in Berlin before Wimbledon. She wants to see more players from the Middle East and Africa in the sport.
”I want to go bigger, inspire many more generation(s),” she said after her semifinal win.
Tunisia’s Minister of Youth and Sport, Kamel Deguiche, said her performance at Wimbledon ”will mark history.”
He said the symbolic title of ”Minister of Happiness” used to describe Jabeur ”is well deserved.” But he wants the government to give her a real title: He said Jabeur should be designated an official ambassador of Tunisia.
”The state should have commitments to a person like Ons, given the services rendered to the homeland and her contribution to giving a shining image of Tunisia,” he said.
Regardless of what happens Saturday, he promised an official welcome celebration upon Jabeur’s return to Tunis.
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