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Ons Jabeur left Melbourne after being eliminated in the third round of the Australian Open, one of the Grand Slam tournaments, by Japan’s Naomi Osaka (3-6, 2-6). Today in Qatar, the one who rose to the rank of 30e world player prepares the tournaments of Doha and Dubai, with her trainer Issam Jelali and her physical trainer Karim Kamoun, who is also her husband.
One year after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the young woman, who is one of the most prominent sportswomen on the African continent, talks about her life in times of health restriction, but also about her ambitions and her country , Tunisia.
You have just spent several weeks in Australia where the sanitary conditions are drastic. How did you experience it?
Ons Jabeur. I first spent two weeks in a hotel, with no leave from my room, because I was in contact. Fifteen days without going out, without being able to train, it’s a very long time, especially to prepare for a tournament. We had to find a way to work physically, which is not easy in a hotel room!
On a video posted on social networks, we saw you working your backhand by throwing the ball on your mattress placed against the wall …
Yes, because I had to touch the racket for at least 30 minutes a day. I found this trick. Otherwise, I was running around the bedroom, for the cardio. I was also doing sit-ups and was able to bring in an exercise bike and a treadmill. But this does not replace real training.
Moreover, in competition, I sometimes felt that the preparation had not been ideal. In any case, we have to adapt to what the countries which organize tournaments decide. It is not for us to impose anything.
As a top athlete, how did you experience the past year?
Honestly, I’m getting used to the tests, the sanitary measures. We must make do. At least we play! Often there is no audience, or only a small number, as in Australia. It’s a special atmosphere, but it’s better than a year ago. At the time, everything had stopped. I had returned to Tunisia and we did not know when the tournaments would resume. It was not easy to prepare without having prospects.
I still think I did a good job. I trained, I thought about my game, what I needed to improve. And then I was able to spend time with my family, it made me feel good because I travel a lot all year round. Today, I am happy to have been able to resume competition. I missed it.
Little is said about the financial aspects. Have these long months of inactivity impacted you?
Yes of course. We lose money since there are no tournaments. But I think it was especially difficult for the players classified beyond the eightieth place. However, there has been aid, for example from the Association of Professional Women Players (WTA) to limit the financial impact of the crisis.
You recently said you wanted to be in the top 10 in the world. What makes you think this goal is achievable in 2021?
I had good results in 2020 [la joueuse a atteint les quarts de finale de l’Open d’Australie, et les huitièmes de finale de Roland-Garros]. I think my game has improved. Tactically, but also physically. I manage my efforts much better. I am a rigorous person, I hardly ever go out.
Finally, mentally, I also progressed, I am even more focused on my game. For all these reasons, I think that I can reach my goal of integrating the top 10. I have to win titles, that I get results in Grand Slam tournaments.
You are very popular in Tunisia, but also in the Arab world. Do you have the impression that your results contribute, in particular in your country, to the development of tennis, and in particular among women?
I don’t think tennis will ever be more popular than football in Tunisia! But I know that more and more people follow my games, even people who are not familiar with tennis. Before the pandemic, I had been shown pictures of cafes in which Tunisians followed my meetings. They stayed an hour and a half in front of the TV, until the end of the match. It made me really happy.
I also know that more and more parents are registering their children in clubs. So much the better if my performances encourage young and old, girls and boys, to play tennis in Tunisia, but also in other Arab countries.
In Tunisia, for several weeks there have been numerous demonstrations by part of the youth, worried, even helpless, in the face of the lack of future prospects. Do you understand this anger?
Tunisia experienced a revolution in 2011. Since then, there have been ups and downs. We are facing an economic crisis that has been made even worse by the Covid-19 epidemic. For many of my compatriots, whatever their age, it is difficult. Some people have lost their jobs, others cannot find one.
Tunisia is a country which lives in particular on tourism. This represents thousands of jobs. However, with the health crisis, there were far fewer visitors than usual. Young people want to leave the country because they think they will not find a job. The state is undoubtedly looking for solutions to better help people. It seems that it takes time to see the effects of a revolution. But I really hope that, soon, the situation will improve and that Tunisia will emerge from this difficult period.