Ons Jabeur is ready to “set the bar really high” for the 2023 as the Tunisian tennis superstar takes aim at the world No 1 ranking and Grand Slam titles.
Twelve months ago, Jabeur arrived in Abu Dhabi as a last-minute replacement to compete in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC), where she declared her goals for 2022 were “top five and big titles”. Those targets were comfortably achieved as Jabeur reached a career-high No 2 in the WTA rankings and won the biggest title of her career at the Madrid Masters, adding more history to her trailblazing career.
There was some anguish, too, with Jabeur ending up on the losing side of successive Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, yet all of her experiences are simply adding fuel to the fire for the new season.
“It was a crazy year, a lot of emotions, a lot of great results,” Jabeur, 28, said at the MWTC media day on Thursday. “I always like to set the bar really high for myself, and I’m always happy to achieve my targets, so I want to use the experiences of 2022 to be ready for 2023, with much higher goals.
“Definitely I want to be world No 1, I want to win Grand Slam titles, and hopefully the experience of being in the far stages of a lot of tournaments will help me be ready for 2023.”
Key to Jabeur achieving her latest set of lofty goals is a successful pre-season. “Tough! (My team) have been killing me but it’s part of the process,” she said when asked about her training regime. “We had a great training and fitness camp and started tennis slowly, so this match at Mubadala will definitely help me be ready for 2023.”
Jabeur will compete in the one-off women’s match at MWTC on Friday evening against the very player she replaced last year. Emma Raducanu, then the reigning US Open champion, was scheduled to face Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic but was forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid-19.
“It’s always nice to be in Abu Dhabi, always nice to be in an Arab country,” Jabeur said. “It feels like home. Every time I meet Arabic fans they’re always so supportive and it really touches me. Hopefully the stadium will be full tomorrow.”
Across the net at Zayed Sports City’s International Tennis Centre will be one of the rising stars of women’s tennis.
Raducanu created her own piece of history in winning the 2021 US Open as a qualifier and surging to No 10 in the rankings. Yet, the 20-year-old Briton’s first full year on tour was beset by injury setbacks and she has since slipped to world No 76.
“For next season I’m aiming to start again and try to learn from the lessons of last year,” Raducanu said. “I don’t think it will necessarily be smooth-sailing but I’ll be more prepared and have a better idea of what to expect at each event.”
When asked what those lessons were, Raducanu said: “Just how taxing the season is physically. I think I’ve put in good preparation, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that holds me for the next year.
“For me now it’s all about increasing my hours on the court because that is something I am quite light on. Physically, though I am in a better place.”
Getting those hours on court is one of the main reasons Raducanu signed up to face Jabeur at MWTC. Her last competitive action was at the start of October when she retired from her first-round match at the Ostrava Open with a wrist injury which meant she “didn’t touch a racquet for two months”.
“Getting a sense of competition and being able to have a match before the new season starts is really important and I’ll be able to improve from there and see where I am competitively,” she said. “It’s been a while since the last tournament, so just putting more time on the tennis court. I’m looking forward to playing this event.”
Jabeur’s match against Raducanu will be the third of three matches on Day 1 and follows the two quarter-finals of the six-player men’s tournament, which begins with Greek world No 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas taking on British No 1 Cameron Norrie. Russian world No 8 Andrey Rublev will then face Croatia’s world No 26 Borna Coric, who is a last-minute replacement for Frances Tiafoe after the American US Open semi-finalist withdrew with injury.
The tournament’s top-two seeds, world No 1 Carlos Alcaraz and world No 3 Casper Ruud, have received byes to Saturday’s semi-finals. Alcaraz will play either Rublev or Coric after the first semi-final between Ruud and Rublev or Coric.