WIMBLEDON – Ons Jabeur used a tissue to wipe away tears as she walked to her post-match news conference 1 1/2 hours after falling to 0-3 in Grand Slam finals by coming up short against Marketa Vondrousova in the Wimbledon final Saturday.
Jabeur called it “the most painful loss of my career,” and was grateful for the consoling embrace she received from Kate, the Princess of Wales, during the trophy presentation at Centre Court — “Hugs are always welcome,” the 28-year-old Tunisian said — and the comforting words she heard later from Kim Clijsters, the International Tennis Hall of Fame member who was defeated in her first four major finals before winning the next four.
The 6-4, 6-4 setback against Vondrousova, the first unseeded woman to win Wimbledon, followed Jabeur’s losses to Elena Rybakina in the final at the All England Club last July and to Iga Swiatek in the final at the U.S. Open last September.
“You cannot force things. It wasn’t meant to be,” said Jabeur, the only Arab woman and only North African woman to make it to the last round in singles at any major tournament. “Hopefully I will be like the others that failed a couple of times ... and it will come after.”
Her day started awkwardly: Jabeur showed up to the main stadium to warm up before the match wearing black clothes, which is against the All England Club’s rules requiring white attire on the competition courts.
So she had to interrupt that hitting session to go change.
“It was just an honest mistake,” she said.
Jabeur was seeded sixth at Wimbledon and beat four past Grand Slam champions along the way to Saturday, including Rybakina.
But Jabeur said she was too tense against Vondrousova, and the statistics seemed to bear that out.
She did not serve well: Only 48% of her first serves landed in and she was broken a half-dozen times.
She did not hit her backhand well: Her 17 unforced errors on that stroke alone were more than Vondrousova’s 13 total mistakes.
In all, Jabeur made 31 unforced errors.
No matter how much she tried to relax by taking deep breaths, no matter how much she tried to calm down with little chats to herself, it didn’t solve the problem.
“It’s painful,” she said, “because you feel so close to achieving something that you want, and actually (now go) back to square one.”
Jabeur took a 4-2 lead in the first set, only to drop 16 of the next 18 points.
Then she went ahead 3-1 and 4-3 in the second set but again let that edge disappear.
Popular with other players and among fans of the sport, Jabeur heard the louder backing from the stands for much of the match — something Vondrousova said she expected.
“I feel like everybody likes Ons. I do, too. So I mean you have to be prepared for it,” said Vondrousova, a 24-year-old left-hander from the Czech Republic who had lost her only previous major final, at the 2019 French Open.
“Many people are looking up to her and they want her to have the Grand Slam so bad," Vondrousova said. "And I feel like she’s going to do it one day. She’s such an amazing person, and I think she has many more to come.”
Now Jabeur will regroup and try to figure out how to get back to the most important match at her sport’s most important events.
She has established herself as one of the best players in women’s tennis, reaching three of the past five major finals.
And her 28 wins on grass over the past three seasons were the most by anyone since Maria Sharapova picked up 30 victories from 2004-06, a stretch that included a Wimbledon title.
“Will definitely keep learning, keep being positive. I think that’s the thing that will keep me going,” Jabeur said. “Otherwise, if I’m going to be depressed about it, it’s not going to help much.”
Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich