History maker: Ons Jabeur celebrates her victory over Tatjana Maria
LONDON - Ons Jabeur became the first African woman in the Open era to reach a Grand Slam singles final on Thursday when she defeated close friend Tatjana Maria in the Wimbledon semi-finals.
The 27-year-old world number two from Tunisia triumphed 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 and will face either 2019 champion Simona Halep or Elena Rybakina in Saturday's championship match.
"I'm a proud Tunisian woman standing here," said Jabeur, who was the first Arab player to make a Slam semi-final.
Before Thursday, South Africans Irene Bowder Peacock, at the 1927 French Open, and Renee Schuurman, in the 1959 Australian Open, were the only African women to have reached a Slam singles final.
"It's a dream come true from years of work and sacrifice. I'm happy that's paid off and I'll continue for one more match," said Jabeur.
"Physically, Tatjana is a beast, she doesn't give up -- I thought she would give up -- her touch, her serve and everything on the court is impressive. I hope she continues this way. Let's not play again, I'm good for now.
"I know in Tunisia they are going crazy right now. I want to see more Arab and African players on the tour. I love the game and I want to share the experience with them."
Jabeur coasted through the first set against mother-of-two Maria with breaks in the third and seventh games.
The Tunisian fired 15 winners to her opponent's six in the first set while not facing a single break point.
However, Maria, described by Jabeur as her "barbecue buddy", did manage to finally break through for 3-1 in the second set off the back of a series of delicate slices.
Jabeur's 17 unforced errors in the second set compared to the six of the more accurate German, who levelled the contest.
But there was to be no upset win as the 103rd-ranked Maria's challenge was quashed.
Jabeur secured a double break for a 5-0 advantage before securing her place in history on a second match point.
- 'I feel for Russians' -
Moscow-born Rybakina will attempt to reach a first Wimbledon final, counting her blessings that she escaped the tournament ban handed out to her Russian compatriots.
Rybakina switched her nationality to Kazakhstan in 2018 to take advantage of greater financial help.
Romania's Simona Halep is targeting a second Wimbledon title
She now finds herself in the semi-finals at the same tournament from which Russian and Belarusian players were banned following the invasion of Ukraine.
"Everybody wants to compete," said the 23-year-old Rybakina, the first player representing Kazakhstan to make the last four of a Slam.
"They were not choosing where they born. Of course, I feel for them."
She admitted she was fortunate to have switched to representing Kazakhstan.
"I think it was very good timing because Kazakhstan were looking for players. I was looking for some help. They believed in me. So I think it was very good combination."
Standing at 6 feet (1.84 metres), world number 23 Rybakina is the big-hitting star of the women's tournament, firing an event-leading 44 aces over five rounds so far.
On Thursday, she faces Halep, who hopes to recreate the "perfect match" that delivered the 2019 Wimbledon title.
The former world number one from Romania collected her second Grand Slam crown at the All England Club three years ago.
Her first was at the French Open in 2018.
However, a calf injury last year forced a three-month lay-off, ruling her out of Wimbledon.
"That was the perfect match of my life," said 30-year-old Halep as she reflected on the 2019 Wimbledon final, when she defeated Serena Williams for the loss of just four games.
"Now I'm playing really well. I'm feeling confident that I feel the game the way I felt back then. Yeah, only positive things, good memories."
By Dave James