CENTRE COURT — Aryna Sabalenka fell agonisingly short of becoming only the second Belarusian player in history to become world No 1 after she was beaten 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 by Ons Jabeur in their Wimbledon semi-final.
Sabalenka was looking to book her place in a second grand slam final of the year by beating Jabeur which would have earned at least 1,300 ranking points for her efforts at SW19.
That would have been enough for her to overhaul Iga Swiatek, who lost in the quarter-finals to Elina Svitolina, at the top of world rankings, ending the Pole’s 66-week stay as No 1.
But Jabeur’s comeback from 7-6, 4-2 down dashed Sabalenka’s hopes of joining fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, who was top dog for a total of 51 weeks in two spells between 2012 and 2013, in the elite club.
Meanwhile, Tunisian Jabeur has now reached three grand slam finals in her last five attempts and has had to do it the hard way too: by beating Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and Petra Kvitova, she is the first woman since Serena Williams to beat three top-10 players at the same Wimbledon.
It had looked as though Sabalenka had done enough to take top spot in the rankings when, despite Jabeur hitting a “Shot of the Tournament” contender to take a 4-2 lead in the first-set tie-break, she won five of the next six points, and then four of the next six games, to leave her opponent staring down the barrel.
But the 28-year-old said the Centre Court crowd, who were noticeably backing her over Sabalenka and need no second invitation to cheer for an underdog, was what pulled her through.
“Thank you to the crowd that kept me in the match,” Jabeur said on court.
“It was very difficult with her shots and her serves. Thank you very much for believing in me. I’m working a lot with my mental coach about this. I might be writing a book about it!
“I’m very proud of myself because maybe the old me would have lost this match today and I would’ve been back home already. I’m finding the strength.”