Ons Jabeur makes more history for Arab women at Wimbledon

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WIMBLEDON, England ⁠— To the many “firsts” filling Ons Jabeur’s resume, add a new one: First Arab woman to reach the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament.

The third-seeded Tunisian improved on last year’s quarterfinal run at Wimbledon by doing one better at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. She beat Marie Bouzkova 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 on Centre Court.

“It means a lot,” said the 27-year-old Jabeur, who is ranked No. 2 in the world. “I was hoping that I could get to this stage for a long time already. … I was talking a little bit to (former Moroccan player) Hicham Arazi, and he told me, `Arabs always lose in the quarterfinals and we are sick of it. Please break this.’ I was, like, I’ll try, my friend.”

She tried and it’s true, she did it.

In the semifinals, Jabeur will face another newcomer to this stage at a major tournament – Tatjana Maria.

The 34-year-old German, who twice took breaks from tennis to have a child, became the oldest first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the Open era in her 35th appearance at such a tournament. She defeated 22-year-old Jule Niemeier 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 on No. 1 Court.

Jabeur and Maria are good friends.

“I’m really happy for her that she’s getting what she deserves. I know she struggled a lot,” Jabeur said. “It’s not easy coming back after having two babies. It’s going to be a great match between us, a lot of respect, for sure.”

Jabeur has been setting record after record for Arab players in recent years. She became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament in 2020 at the Australian Open. In 2021, she was the first Arab player to break into the top 10 of the men’s or women’s rankings, then became the first Arab to win a WTA title, and topped it off with her record run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

This year, things have been going even better for Jabeur on the grass at the All England Club. She won her first four matches in straight sets and was rarely troubled in any of them.

That changed against Bouzkova, a 23-year-Czech who had never before been to the third round at a major tournament. Bouzkova’s strong start, however, didn’t last into the second set.

“She gets all the balls and doesn’t make, to win a point, easy for me,” Jabeur said. “I’m glad I stepped in with my game. I was more aggressive in the second set, and especially tactically I was playing some angles that she didn’t like much.”

Maria also lost the first set before recovering to win the next two. The victory made her only the sixth woman to reach the Wimbledon semifinals after turning 34 years old.

The previous five women – Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Venus Williams and Serena Williams – won a combined 30 titles at the All England Club in their careers.

“To be in a list of such great players, it’s amazing,” said Maria, who had only ever reached the third round at a major once before – at Wimbledon in 2015. “I mean, to have my name in the same spot, yeah, I still cannot believe it, really.”

Maria is making her 10th appearance at the All England Club – her participation was twice interrupted to have children. Her first daughter was born in 2013 and the second came in 2021.

Tennis, despite this incredible run at Wimbledon, has taken a back seat to family ever since the kids came along.

“I think for me, that’s the most important in my life, to be a mom of my two kids. Nothing will change this,” Maria said. “I’m in the semifinal of Wimbledon, it’s crazy, but I’m still a mom. After this I will go out over there and I will see my kids and I will do the same thing what I do every single day.”

Maria was ranked outside the top 250 as recently as March, but she has worked her way back to No. 103.

She returned from her second maternity leave about a year ago and lost in the first round of the U.S. Open. At the majors this year, she lost in the first round at both the Australian Open and the French Open.

“I always believed that I have something inside, I mean, that I can do this,” Maria said. “I always believed in this, but to be now here in this spot … one year ago I gave birth to my second daughter. If somebody would tell me one year later you are in a semifinal of Wimbledon, that’s crazy.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”