Ons Jabeur, the tennis champion “Minister of Happiness” of Tunisians

“Poooooo po-po-po-po poo pooooo! » Under the warmth of the setting sun, the song of a spectator, a nod to the White Stripes hit, Seven Nation Army, burst into the stands. The Tunisian flags wave in a hubbub of joy. A woman, in her twenties, beige tank top, holds up a sign. Between tennis balls drawn like champagne bubbles, two sentences: “Yalla Ons! You’re my biggest inspiration. » A few rows further, a little girl has colored her lips with the national colors, half white, half red. Spectators, veiled or not, have donned the jersey of the Tunisian football team, men are waving scarves.

This October 4, in Monastir, a coastal city in Tunisia, there is a sweet euphoria on the central court of the Skanes hotel. The facility, with its eight immaculately surfaced hard-court tennis courts, is one of many oversized and “all-inclusive” along the sea, wedged between the Mediterranean and the Habib Bourguiba airport. It is there, next to a vacant lot and a hotel school with a decrepit facade, that Tunisia is hosting the first WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) tournament in its history.

That evening, Ons Jabeur, 28, relishes. More than her anecdotal qualification for the second round against a modest American, the Tunisian benefits from the joy of the public. Plump cheeks, big smile and multiple successes: in her country, the player has earned the nickname “Minister of Happiness”. In English then in Arabic, she thanks everyone. First the some 2,500 spectators who came to fill the small stands, which were still three-quarters empty the day before, then the organizers. But it was his recent victories that made this event possible.

Ons Jabeur, during her match against American Ann Li, in Monastir (Tunisia), October 4, 2022.

In January 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic, she became the first Arab to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament, at the Australian Open. The beginning of a long series of firsts. There was his entry into the world Top 10, in the fall of 2021. Then, after the final (lost) at the beginning of September at the US Open, Ons Jabeur became world number 2, behind the Polish Iga Swiatek. The English-language media gave him a nickname, “Onstoppable”, derived fromunstoppable (“unstoppable”).

Africa is no longer an invisible continent in this sport dominated by Europe and the Americans, where sometimes a few Asians and Australians were embedded. From October 31 to November 7, during the Women’s Masters, where the best players in the world must compete in Fort Worth, Texas, the Tunisian flag will therefore fly alongside those of Poland, the United States or France. .

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