TUNIS, Tunisia — In Tunisia, there's no better way to escape the intense heatwave than to head inside and watch Wimbledon on TV when Ons Jabeur is playing.
The 28-year-old Jabeur, the only Arab woman and only North African woman to participate in a Grand Slam tennis final, will again play for the Wimbledon championship on Saturday — a year after losing in the title match at the All England Club.
“Ons has brought us a lot of joy," Ameur Ben Ahmed told The Associated Press. "She makes us momentarily forget the difficulties of everyday life in these times of crisis and shortages.”
Tunisians are in need of hope as their economy teeters toward collapse, with high debt, inflation and joblessness along with worsening political and social tensions.
Despite the heatwave that has been raging in the country for several days, many Tunisians have been deserting the beaches to follow Jabeur's matches, either on giant screens in cafes or in hotel lounges.
Jabeur reached two major tennis finals last year, also losing at the U.S. Open, but she's hoping her third chance at a Grand Slam trophy will be the lucky one.
And she certainly feels the support coming from back home.
“The good thing about those people, they always tell me, win or lose, we love you,” Jabeur said Thursday after defeating Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 in the semifinals. “That’s great words to hear.”
Jabeur was dubbed the Minister of Happiness last year, in part because of the way she plays the game with so much joy.
One of her country's real ministers said he is planning to be at the All England Club for Saturday's final, when Jabeur will face Marketa Vondrousova on Centre Court for the Venus Rosewater Dish.
“I want to tell Ons that Tunisia is proud of you and that the 12 million Tunisians will be behind you whatever the outcome of the final,” Minister of Youth and Sport Kamel Deguiche said on Radio Mosaïque on Friday.
Her fans are more than just proud. One man, Mansour Belgacem, said Tunisia should erect a statue to Jabeur “in recognition of her services to the country and sport.”
Deguiche seemed to have bigger plans, however. The sports minister noted the government’s willingness to support Jabeur’s project to set up a tennis academy in Tunisia.
“It’s the least Tunisia can offer her,” he said. “Thanks to Ons Jabeur, many Tunisians and other Arabs and Africans are now interested in tennis.”
Jabeur has always been interested in the sport. She's now interested in becoming a Grand Slam champion — finally.
"For me there is one goal: I’m going for it," Jabeur said. “I will prepare 100%. Hopefully I can make history not just for Tunisia, but for Africa.”