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Wimbledon: Ons Jabeur refusing to give up on Grand Slam dream after heartbreaking defeat to Marketa Vondrousova in final

Ons Jabeur insisted "it wasn't meant to be" as she suffered defeat in the Wimbledon final for the second straight year amid her search for a first Grand Slam title; champion Marketa Vondrousova described her win at the All England Club as "impossible" after her series of injury setbacks

A tearful Jabeur holds her runners-up trophy after losing to Marketa Vondrousova in the Wimbledon final
Image: A tearful Ons Jabeur holds her runners-up trophy after losing to Marketa Vondrousova in the Wimbledon final

A tearful Ons Jabeur reassured the Princess of Wales that "hugs are welcome" as the pair embraced in the immediate aftermath of her defeat to Marketa Vondrousova in Saturday's Wimbledon final. 

It served as unwelcome deja vu for the Tunisian, who had shared a similar exchange with Kate Middleton this time last year when she was denied victory at the All England Club by Elena Rybakina.

Jabeur, who also finished runner-up at the 2022 US Open, admitted on Centre Court that defeat to first-time Grand Slam champion Vondrousova was the "most painful of her career".

Matching words of support awaited her as her search for a maiden Grand Slam title continues.

"Same thing after last year," she said of the message from the Princess of Wales. "To encourage me to be strong, to come back and win a Grand Slam, win a Wimbledon. Obviously she was very nice.

"She didn't know if she wants to give me a hug or not. I told her hugs are always welcome from me. That was a very nice moment and she's always nice to me."

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Jabeur speaks with the Princess of Wales
Image: Jabeur speaks with the Princess of Wales

Jabeur was reminded in her press conference that Chrissie Evert, Simona Halep and Kim Clijsters all lost their first three Grand Slam finals before going on to find later success, the world No 6 jumping in to note that Clijsters in fact lost her first four ahead of clinching three US Open titles and an Australian Open title.

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"We were crying together at the locker room," smiled Jabeur.

"I love Kim so much. She's a great inspiration for me. I grew up watching her a bit. The fact that she takes the time to give me advice and to really hug me, always be there for me, I think it's priceless.

"Yeah, she was telling me all the time she lost four. That's why I know the information, otherwise would have been tough. But, yeah, that's the positive out of it. You cannot force things. It wasn't meant to be. It wasn't meant to be."

Czech Republic's Marketa Vondrousova celebrates with the trophy after beating Tunisia's Ons Jabeur to win the final of the women's singles on day thirteen of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Image: Vondrousova celebrates with the trophy after winning her maiden Grand Slam title

With Jabeur's ascent as one of the premier players on tour has come heightened expectations and attention from the Arab and North African fans whose love and support she dreams of repaying in the form of a historic Slam trophy.

As Vondrousova collapsed to the ground in celebratory disbelief on Saturday, Jabeur sat in her chair with her hands to her head wondering how another opportunity had escaped her. This one hurt more than the others, but it will not deter her.

"I've been having more pressure. The more good results that I do, the more pressure I feel," she said. "But it is what it is. Like I said, I cannot force anything right now. It wasn't meant to be. It wasn't.

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"Definitely this match, last year's match, the final of the US Open, will teach me how to win these finals. Will definitely keep learning, keep being positive. I think that's the thing that will keep me going. Otherwise, if I'm going to be depressed about it, it's not going to help much. I'll try to stay positive.

"I felt I was doing everything right. Again, with the same thing that happened last year... It's painful because you feel so close to achieving something that you want, and actually back to square one. Again, just try to get rid of these negative thoughts and continue being positive."

Vondrousova: Wimbledon glory 'impossible'!

Champion Vondrousova joked that she "almost couldn't breathe" as she prepared to serve out for the match while leading 40-0 and 5-4 to the good in the third set.

Later asked to sum up her Wimbledon experience, she offered up the word 'crazy'.

"I'm just very happy that I stayed in my head and I just kept it together," she said. "It was really tough in some moments. I think it was just a great match. We had some great rallies. She's an amazing player. She's an amazing person. That was the tough part also. We know each other very well. I'm just very happy that I kept fighting in the important moments."

Vondrousova had been present at Wimbledon last summer, but as a spectator as she cheered on Miriam Kolodziejova while wearing a cast having undergone wrist surgery.

Marketa Vondrousova celebrates winning the Ladies Singles Final following victory against Ons Jabeur on day thirteen of the 2023 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon. Picture date: Saturday July 15, 2023.
Image: Vondrousova celebrates her winning moment

The 2019 French Open finalist notably missed three of the four Slams in 2022 amid her recovery, softening her own expectations as she entered a less-than-comfortable grass-court season.

"I had a cast last year at that time. It was impossible [the thought of winning Wimbledon]. I was watching my best friend here playing qualys. I was a tourist here," she said.

"When I was coming back, I didn't know what's going to happen, if I can play at that level again. Yeah, I mean, this seems impossible. Even, like, I don't know, on grass I didn't play well before.

"I think it was the most impossible Grand Slam for me to win, so I didn't even think of it. When we came, I was just like, 'Try to win couple of matches'. Now this happened, it's crazy."

She would later joke that victory at Wimbledon prompted more emotion on the face of her husband than she has witnessed in eight years, the pair fittingly due to celebrate their wedding anniversary on Sunday.

The result, meanwhile, arrives as overdue news to Vondrousova's mother, who previously witnessed her daughter endure defeat to Ash Barty at the age of 19 in the French Open final followed by a second-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics and a series of injury setbacks.

"I was thinking we played finals in Berlin of doubles. My mom was there watching. She was like, she was so upset. She told me, I don't want to be second all the time," said the 24-year-old.

"I was like, Okay, mom, we'll try today. She was like, I'm not coming. I just want to watch TV. Yeah, I mean, I was a bit nervous before. When we came onto the court, I was like, okay, let's see what's going to happen.

"I didn't start well. I feel like I was so calm. I felt really good. So I was just trying to put every ball into the play. I'm just so happy that I could stay focused. It's very tough. People are cheering and everything. When it was 40-love, I couldn't breathe. I just was thinking to myself, Just be over. I was like crazy nervous. It was such a relief when I put the match point in."

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