Tennis-Tunisian magician Jabeur adds special ingredient to Wimbledon mix


LONDON (Reuters) - When you have as many shots up your sleeve as Tunisian magician Ons Jabeur, the biggest problem can be deciding which one to use.

It has taken the 26-year-old a while to fathom her own game out, but finally it appears to be clicking into place.

She warmed up for Wimbledon by becoming the first Arab woman to win a WTA tournament, on grass in Birmingham, and on Friday became the first Arab woman to reach the last 16.

Those on Centre Court not acquainted with Jabeur's unique style might have expected former Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza to overpower the 21st seed.

But they were treated to a rare display of invention by Jabeur, whose mixture of drop shots, changes of pace and spin left the powerful Spaniard's head spinning.

It was a victory for imagination on the game's biggest stage and Jabeur's next match against 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek should not be missed.

She won the French Open junior title in 2011 but it took her 13 attempts to get beyond the third round of a Grand Slam main draw as she struggled to successfully blend the ingredients of her rich game.

While her game remains refreshingly instinctive, coach Issam Jellali has helped her harness her skills.

Since reaching the quarter-finals of the 2020 Australian Open, she has gone from strength to strength, reaching two French Open last-16s and now here at Wimbledon.

"I'm believing more in my shots. Before I can play any shots, but in my mind it was not clear," she told reporters after her dazzling display against 11th seed Muguruza.

"Step by step I think everything got clearer in my head. I know which shot to do. I'm more confident.

"Having the talent, it could be a good thing and bad thing at the same time because when you don't know what to do with that, you just don't win matches. As soon as I got that clear in my head, the matches and the wins are coming."

One thing that her coach will not be taming is her love of the drop shot -- a ploy she used repeatedly to throw Muguruza off balance on Friday.

Muguruza probably knew they were coming but such is Jabeur's slight of hand that she was often unable to hunt them down -- on one occasion almost toppling over the net as she sprinted forward to try and scrape one up.

"I had so many coaches telling me to cut the drop shot out," she said. "It's a tricky shot, it's a good shot. Sometimes when you do a lot of it, it's bad.

"Sometimes you can surprise the player with a drop shot, sometimes you can do a good one, and you have an easy ball after. I've always been stubborn and never listen to the coach when they tell me not to do a drop shot."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)