Ons Jabeur, ranked No. 114 in the world, slipped into the French Open as a “lucky loser”—a player who lost in qualifying rounds but nevertheless lucked into a spot vacated by another player’s withdrawal. Before this tournament, the 22-year-old Tunisian had played only two other Grand Slam matches in her life, both first-round exits. But with Wednesday’s second-round upset of the No. 6 seed, Dominika Cibulkova, Jabeur became the first Arab woman to make the third round of a Grand Slam. With these points, she’s also guaranteed to become the first Arab woman to crack the top 100 since 2001.
After a comfortable 6-4, 6-3 victory peppered with 30 winners, Jabeur celebrated by grabbing her country’s flag from the stands.
Jabeur, a Muslim, won’t fast during her run at Roland Garros, which coincides with Ramadan this year, but plans to observe the holiday after the competition. (It’s a decision other Muslim athletes have contemplated before.) “It’s hard to think about Ramadan,” Jabeur told the AP. “I mean, I can’t not eat or drink ... obviously I cannot do 30 days in a row. But I just have to do it before the next Ramadan, for sure.”
She also reflected on representing a part of the world that rarely sends talent to the highest levels of the sport:
“Well, when I win, I represent the Arab world. When I lose, I try to be just Ons Jabeur,” she said with a smile. “We are small country. The Arab world is like when you do something good, you’re from Tunisia, and from Morocco, other Arab country, they get interested in you.
“For me, it’s not only about Tunisia anymore, and it’s all about the Arab country, African continent. It’s amazing, because I feel like my country is getting bigger and bigger.”
Jabeur won the junior tournament here back in 2011; tomorrow, in the real thing, she’ll face the No. 30 seed Timea Bacsinszky in the third round.