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Ons Jabeur’s heart was broken at Wimbledon, what if it never heals?

CENTRE COURT — The last time Ons Jabeur stepped foot on Centre Court 12 months ago, her dreams were in tatters for the second time. Twice she has played the Wimbledon final, twice as the favourite and both times she lost.

They are brutal memories. For a court so beloved by most players, the losses inflicted by that grass have left intense scar tissue for Jabeur. Unfortunately, it was clear to see on Saturday.

No 10 seed Jabeur underperformed again on the big stage, this time against a ferocious opponent in Elina Svitolina, and lost 6-1, 7-6.

Jabeur, 29, has made no secret of the fact she wants to win Wimbledon more than any other tournament. In 2022 she led Elena Rybakina by one set in the final, but ended up losing in three. Last year she was consoled by the Princess of Wales on Centre Court after breaking down in tears, following her straight sets defeat at the hands of unseeded Marketa Vondrousova.

That was Jabeur’s third loss in a major final, and it turned out she missed out on more than just a trophy. Speaking earlier this year in a documentary about her life, This Is Me, she revealed that she had planned to immediately start trying for a family if she had won Wimbledon in 2023. The loss put those plans on ice, and Jabeur was devastated.

“There was a personal thing going on there. I win that Wimbledon final, I could have a baby right away,” Jabeur said in the documentary. “And that dream faded. I was haunted by fear… It was the toughest loss of my career because emotionally it destroyed me, not only winning Wimbledon, but the idea of having a baby just vanished with the trophy of Wimbledon.”

Whether that haunted feeling will ever go away remains to be seen as she admitted the memories of last year’s final popped into her mind when Svitolina ran away with the first set on Saturday.

“I’m not going to lie to you. It was a bit of remembering last year,” Jabeur said afterwards. “Especially not playing so good, not serving the way I wanted in the first set especially did bring a bit of sad memories. But yeah, I would still love the Centre Court. Will still hope to come back and win on it again.”

This loss was down to more than just bad vibes though. Over the past season, Jabeur has been hampered by a knee injury. It is partly why she has dipped from sixth in the rankings this time last year to 10th.

Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - July 6, 2024 Tunisia's Ons Jabeur waves at fans after losing her third round match against Ukraine's Elina Svitolina REUTERS/Hannah Mckay
Jabeur is known as the ‘minister for happiness’ and managed to raise a weak smile after defeat (Photo: Reuters)

She has “accepted that I will always have knee pain” and admitted post-match that she is due another platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection in her knee, which helps heal the tissue in the joint and prevents some pain. It is a treatment she will continue to have every six months to try to manage the injury, but it will not solve the issue entirely.

While the pain in her knee has impacted her results over the past year, credit has to be given to Svitolina for her performance. The 21st seed was a semi-finalist at Wimbledon last year just months after returning from the birth of her first child, and has brought the same energy to this year’s championships.

Svitolina was in the zone from the very start of the match against Jabeur. She hit 20 winners to 12 unforced errors, and balanced aggressive play with some impressive defensive work to fend off Jabeur.

The first set was never really a contest, as Svitolina took it within half an hour in a near-flawless performance. Jabeur tried to get back on track, but wasted her only real chance on Svitolina’s serve by sending her forehand 2cm wide on set point: one of 22 unforced errors she sprayed on that wing.

Svitolina then pushed the set to a tie-break and never looked back. She will be the favourite in her last-16 match on Monday, against China’s Wang Xinyu.

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