“We nicknamed him Roger Federer.” Fifteen years before Tunisian Ons Jabeur became the first Arab woman to reach the top of world tennis, her former training partner had already learned that she was dealing with a future star. During his teenage years in Tunis, Omar Laabidi was regularly hit hard by the 12-year-old prodigy. “What we see in the field of Ons, the warrior, the fighter who fights at all points, has always been his character”points out.
After a 2021 season in which she rose to the top 10, a first for an Arab player, Ons Jabeur, who is about to take part in the Roland-Garros tournament, she has just moved up to 6th place in the world at the age of 27. its best ranking. He achieved this thanks to his title at the WTA 1000 in Madrid and his final in Rome, where he lost to world number one, the untouchable Polish Iga Swiatek.
“He was told his shots were like Federer’s when we trained together for the national team. He hit me, I ran to get it back and tore my hand.”, adds the 28-year-old who has become a coach. When they talk about that time together, Ons Jabeur mocks him by describing him as his own “pain reliever”.
Tennis more than handball
When Ons and he were little, in his coastal town of Hammam Sousse (center-east), there were no tracks, apart from those in the hotels of this coastal town where the champion hit her first balls. The little one of four brothers, with a determined look at the photos of the time, already had a strong character. Her then-coach, who followed her for 10 years, makes no secret of her pride. “I remember her as a child. She had a fire inside. She kept moving.”explains Nabil Mlika, 55.
He learned so quickly that his coach often faced a dilemma: “Do we have to raise the level of the exercises or wait until his teammates can keep up? ». “I had physical abilities and great facilities with the ball to the point that some coaches wanted me to play handball.remembers Mr. Mlika. He thought about it but decided to stay in tennis. » Born in the coastal village of Ksar Hellal, she moved to Tunis at the age of 12 to join a prestigious sports high school. Mr. Laabidi followed the same path. “Ons, even injured in a game, tried to end up giving it his all”remember.
Graduated as a junior at Roland-Garros
“She was always a prankster and had easy contact. But she was also a little provocative and enjoyed debating every topic., remember. Everyone who met her when she was young assures us that she hasn’t changed much. “He kept chasing all the balls in training, something he’s always done since his debut.”emphasizes his former coach.
His first international feat dates back to 2011, when he won the junior title at Roland-Garros at the age of 16. She then became the first Arab player to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open in 2020. Thanks to her notoriety, her former club Hammam Sousse, who christened a track in his name, has experienced a boom in records. , from 320 in 2018 to more than 700 members currently.
Aware of her role, Ons Jabeur, married since 2015 to her fitness trainer Karim Kammoun, a former professional fencer, regularly proclaims her connection to Tunisia, a country in severe economic and political crisis and with few means to devote to it. sport .. It was “An example of hope for our children”explains Yousra Koubaa, mother of Yasmine, a dynamic 8-year-old girl enrolled in her idol’s former club.