BBQ buddies Tatjana Marin and Ons Jabeur served up a jaunty Wimbledon semi-final. Playing under clear blue skies, both eschewed the power play of modern tennis, settling instead for a more artful approach, as has been their style. The match was a mix of slices, approach shots and intricate net play, drawing ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the Centre Court crowd. But it was third-seeded Jabeur who prevailed 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in an hour and 43 minutes, fighting off Marin’s resistance.
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As the crowd settled in for a duel between two close friends, Jabeur immediately put the Marin serve under pressure. The opening game, lasting eight minutes, was a sample of what was to come. The two, whilst not quite hitting their stride from the get-go, did manage to produce some fine rallies as the German mother-of-two held of the Ons’ charge. But the Tunisian soon found her groove, breaking the Tatjana serve to move into a 3-1 lead. From there, it was easygoing for the 27-year-old. She would break again at 4-2, sealing it with an easy winner after a poor approach shot from Marin. Jabeur wrapped up the set with a love hold, including two aces.
But the 34-year-old unseeded German has been dogged throughout her Wimbledon campaign. Having forced her way into the semis- toppling three seeds, including Greek Maria Sakkari- she wasn’t about to concede without a fight. In the second, she found a better rhythm, which showed in her movement and shot-making. With the set poised at 1-2 in her favour, Marin broke Jabeur to inch ahead in the second. The Tunisian was careless throughout, handing Marin a breakpoint at 30-all. Needing to convert, the German left the Tunisian scrambling with a well-placed drop shot. While Jabeur did find her touch occasionally in the set, it was Marin who was shading her every move. Waltzing into a 5-3 lead, the veteran levelled the semi-final with a comfortable hold.
Jabeur- seemingly a little constrained by the occasion- flew out of the blocks in the decider. Kicking off with a love hold- graced by a flowing backhand cross-court winner- she looked in the mood. Marin would find herself a break down soon after. Down 30-40, she could only watch as Jabeur drained a forehand topspin winner beyond her reach! The break-of-serve would snap Tatjana’s rear guard, leaving her easy prey for the Tunisian. Haring into a 5-1 lead, she would make her way into the finals with the easiest of holds.
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Centre Court stood in applause as the two friends embraced at the net. The eccentric Jabeur becomes the first African woman and the first Arab to reach a Grand Slam final. But even in her finest hour, the Tunisian was gracious enough to remember her good friend and opponent, joking that Tatjana owes her a barbeque after today’s runaround.