If belief is a contributing factor to success on grass, then Ons Jabeur will be one to watch over the next four weeks.
“Usually, I play football on grass, not tennis, but it’s changing a little bit for me, ” Jabeur told WTA Insider by phone on Media Day at the bett1open in Berlin, Germany. A couple of weeks ago, Jabeur made her Top 5 debut after Roland Garros. Currently, the World No.4, she is the top seed at the first WTA 500 of the grass season.
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“I feel like I have a great relationship with grass,” Jabeur said. “As soon as I find my timing, how to adapt to my shots, it becomes much better and I feel like I will be enjoying much more my time on grass. I like to see grass as a fun game because it’s much different from other surfaces. When I see it that way, I play much better.”
Jabeur is armed with a game full of slices, drop shots, and it was only a matter of time before she was was going to find success on grass. Everything finally clicked last summer. Jabeur won her first Hologic WTA Tour title on the grass in Birmingham and then followed it up with a run to her first Wimbledon quarterfinal.
“If you believe you can play good on grass, then you can,” Jabeur said. “If you have a hate relationship with grass, then it’s not going to help.
“I think grass could suit a lot of players. For example, players who hit flat and hard, it’s tough to return the balls. Other players, like myself, who change the rhythm, they slice, they make you visit all the corners of the court, they can play really good on grass. So you need to be ready on your legs and prepare your reaction very well.”
Already enjoying the best season of her career, Jabeur, 27, says she’s ready to turn the page on her bittersweet clay season. After being derailed by injury and illness to start her season, Jabeur went 17-4 on the clay, winning her biggest career title in Madrid and making two additional finals, in Rome and Charleston.
Jabeur was one of the favorites heading into Roland Garros, but she bowed out of the tournament just hours after it began.
“I feel like the goals I set for myself,” Jabeur said. “I want to be Top 5, I want to win more titles. I want to be No.1 one day. I have to go through this.
“What happened at the French Open taught me a lot to maybe have a better schedule next time or handle the pressure much better for sure. But it’s the part of the process, part of the goals that I want to achieve. I have to accept those kinds of challenges because that’s where I want to go in my career.”
Could her setback help her on grass? After over two months of nonstop play on the clay, Jabeur was able to put down her racquets and refresh both the body and mind. After a vacation week in Dubai with her husband, Jabeur returned to Paris to spend time with her family.
“I was practicing in Paris,” Jabeur said. “The grass was not amazing, so here it feels like carpet.
“Wimbledon is one of my main goals that I put in my mind from the beginning of the year. It feels good to be back on a surface that I love so much. I try to put off the pressure a little bit. Being seeded No.1 here didn’t help much. Didn’t expect that, to be honest with you.”
Reunited with her competitors in Berlin, Jabeur has been hard at work on the practice courts to accelerate her adaptation process. She has practiced with Bianca Andreescu, Daria Kasatkina, and Karolina Muchova, who she will face in the first round. That Jabeur has opted to practice with players known for their court craft and unpredictability is no surprise.
“I think maybe the bounce [on grass is the most difficult thing] because sometimes the bounces are unexpected and you don’t know where the ball is going to go,” Jabeur said. “Sometimes it’s really frustrating because you think you have the shot to win it and a bad bounce changes everything. So I think if you adapt your eyes, your reaction to grass, the mission can be much easier.”
Jabeur heads into the grass season at No.2 behind Iga Swiatek in the Race to the WTA Finals. Despite her new career-high ranking and a solid bank of points from the first half of the year, Jabeur says she remains hungry.
“I like to think that I’m very bad at math and I don’t have any points and I need to get more and more points for the rest of the season,” Jabeur said. “Not playing at the beginning of the season, I didn’t have much. Right now, I need to continue achieving my goals from the beginning of the season.”