With the hopes of a country, a continent and a world of tennis lovers who felt she was long overdue urging her toward history, Ons Jabeur fell agonizingly short. For the second time at Wimbledon, and the third time in a year at a Grand Slam, Jabeur had hoped to become the first woman from Tunisia, the first from Africa and the first Arabic speaker to win a major women’s singles tournament.
The pressure of playing for so much and so many may have caught up to her, again.
“Honestly, I felt a lot of pressure, feeling a lot of stress,” Jabeur said Saturday after losing the women’s singles final, 6-4, 6-4 to Marketa Vondrousova. “But like every final, like every match I played, I was telling myself, ‘It’s OK, it’s normal.’ I honestly did nothing wrong.”
For years on tour, Jabeur has done everything right, except win a title that she and her fans so desperately desire. Tears flowed again on Centre Court, as Jabeur joined the likes of Andy Murray and Jana Novotna, two former Wimbledon finalists who each cried after losing finals they had hoped would be their breakthrough championships.
Jabeur, who lost last year’s Wimbledon final — and the final of the last U.S. Open — struggled against Vondrousova, who won to become the first unseeded Wimbledon women’s champion.
Shortly after, during the on-court ceremony, Jabeur broke down, wiping tears from her pink eyes as she spoke to spectators, and holding the runner-up trophy like a dirty dish. She called it “the most painful loss” of her career. Then, when she receded into the elegant hallways of Wimbledon’s main stadium, Catherine, Princess of Wales, offered a consoling hug.
“I told her hugs are always welcome from me,” said Jabeur, who required the same sympathetic shoulder last year after losing to Elena Rybakina in the final.
Another famous royal hug was given in 1993 by the Duchess of Kent to Novotna, after Novotna had lost to Steffi Graf in the final and began to weep during the trophy ceremony. Five years later, Novotna won it all.
In 2012, Murray was in pieces after losing to Roger Federer in the final, barely able to speak to the fans — and to a nation — during his on-court speech. Carrying the hopes of British sports fans yearning for their first men’s champion in 77 years at their home grand slam, Murray’s voice cracked and he dabbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. A few weeks later he won the U.S. Open and the following year he won Wimbledon, by beating Novak Djokovic, this year’s men’s finalist who plays on Sunday against Carlos Alcaraz.
There is precedent, and perhaps some luck, for popular players who demonstrate their vulnerability and shed a tear after a gutting loss. Jabeur also received a hug from Kim Clijsters, who lost four finals in major tournaments before finally winning the U.S. Open in 2005. She eventually finished her career with four Grand Slam singles titles, one for every loss.
“It brings back a lot of memories and thoughts about how you go about it,” Clijsters said in an interview Saturday after the match. “I was trying to remember the process I went through. There is no real secret, it’s just trying to give yourself the opportunity to get to that stage again.”
At the 2001 French Open, Clijsters sought to become the first Belgian woman to win a major tournament. She lost to Jennifer Capriati, 12-10, in an epic third set, one day after her 18th birthday. Clijsters said she was too young to handle all the attention, scrutiny and on-court challenges if she had won that day.
Jabeur, who turns 29 in August, feels more than ready to win. But the pressure only increases with each failed attempt. Clijsters noticed that Jabeur had poor body language Saturday, slumping after mistakes and showing zero positive emotions following a good shot.
“That shows that the doubt was overpowering everything during the match,” Clijsters said. “The biggest thing she has to learn is to fake it. Fake it until you make it.”
Faking it could be hard for Jabeur, who appears as genuine as she is talented; one of the many reasons fans are so drawn to her. As the No. 6 seed, she played magnificently here, avenging last year’s devastating loss to No. 3 Rybakina in a quarterfinal and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in their semifinal. Many thought it was Jabeur’s time, making the loss more excruciating and eliciting sympathy even from Vondrousova’s camp.
“When I saw her, I started to cry, too,” said Stepan Simek, Vondrousova’s husband. “Ons is a very lovely human. She has a good heart and is very friendly with opponents, and even to me. I was very sad because she deserves to be a Grand Slam champion. She will make it one day.”