WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — She headed the ball. She flicked it up with her feet. Ons Jabeur is having fun, and she’s winning.
The Tunisian, who at No. 3 is the highest-remaining women’s seed, advanced to her second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal with a 7-6 (9), 6-4 victory over Elise Mertens on No. 1 Court on Sunday.
“It’s my kind of thing to express a little bit my stress during the match, doing funny things with the football or anything (that) just helps me connect with the crowd,” Jabeur said of her ball skills, like when she chased down and headed away a lob from Mertens that went long. “(To) be myself on the court really is very, very important.”
The 27-year-old Jabeur saved five set points in the tiebreaker — the closest she’s come to dropping a set through four matches. She improved to 9-0 this season on grass, which includes winning the Berlin Open last month.
Just over a year ago, she became the first Arab woman to win a singles title on the elite women’s tennis tour when she lifted the trophy in Birmingham — also a grass-court tournament.
“I love playing on grass, I love the connection between nature and me, so hopefully it will continue this way for me and maybe through the finals,” Jabeur said.
Shaking off the disappointment of a first-round loss at the French Open, Jabeur’s goals are “very high” at the All England Club.
“No matter who’s coming, I’m going to build the fight, I’m going to fight till the end because I really want the title,” said Jabeur, who has never reached a Grand Slam semifinal.
Up next is unseeded Czech player Marie Bouzkova, who advanced to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal by beating Caroline Garcia of France 7-5, 6-2.
Simona Halep is the last Grand Slam champion standing on the women’s side. The 16th-seeded Romanian won at Wimbledon in 2019 and at the French Open the year before that. She faces fourth-seeded Paula Badosa in the fourth round on Monday.
Jabeur and Badosa are all that’s left of the top 15 seeds.
Also Sunday, Tatjana Maria eliminated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the age of 34.
“I always believed that at one point I can show what I can do,” said the 103rd-ranked Maria, who ousted fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari in the third round. “I’m happy that today, I mean, I came back when I was down, so I’m proud of myself.”
Maria will face 22-year-old Jule Niemeier, who is making her All England Club debut, in an all-German showdown for a place in the semifinals. The 97th-ranked Niemeier advanced by beating Heather Watson 6-2, 6-4 on Centre Court in just her second Grand Slam tournament.
Jabeur described her match, particularly the tiebreaker, as “10 out of 10 stressful” but that she’s coping better now.
“I am breathing better. I’m expressing more my feelings before the matches. That helps me, like, really play the game that I want to play,” she said.
Jabeur is not a big fan of the antics that were on display in the fourth-round match between Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday.
“Tennis is a very beautiful sport. It shouldn’t be that way,” said Jabeur, who after her victory in the Berlin final prepared a cooler with ice for opponent Belinda Bencic, who had stopped playing because of an injured ankle.
So it was no surprise that 90 minutes after her victory on Sunday, while Jabeur was on a balcony doing TV interviews, fans yelled greetings to her from below.
“Me, I’m just someone that enjoys life a lot,” Jabeur said. “For me, a tennis career is going to be very short. What’s more important for me is my character and how people talk about me.”
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