Osaka isn’t the only Japanese man making headlines. Jabeur has also been making waves. An aggressive and incredibly powerful player who averages a hundred miles per hour, the Saudi native is currently in the top 10 of the men’s tennis rankings.
“I remember my dad showed me a YouTube clip of [Japanese player Kento] Sugita, and he told me that I have to be like him,” Jabeur tells the AED column in King Mohammed bin Salman’s newspaper, al-Watan. “My whole senior year of high school, I was obsessed with tennis. I wanted to win trophies so that I could become the best player in the world. So I changed all my diet, and I started working really hard on my fitness.”
Born in 1986, Jabeur also got his start playing on men’s tournaments on the pro circuit as a 16-year-old, but his rise has been impressive.
His first breakthrough came in October 2016, when he advanced to the quarterfinals of a tournament in Thailand. He would later win $130,000 in prize money. His next chance came in April, when he went to Roland Garros as the world’s No. 260 player. At his first Grand Slam tournament appearance, he knocked out the sixth-seeded Denis Shapovalov of Canada in a walkover after Roger Federer pulled out of the tournament with a back injury. Since the start of the year, he has reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Dubai and Marseille. He also had some success in qualifying in Melbourne and Indian Wells, beating players like Dustin Brown of Germany and Rajeev Ram.
Against Kubot in Paris, Jabeur was able to break through, but it was not an easy time. Coming off a U.S. Open win in September, Kubot was a former French Open runner-up in 2014. Kubot had defeated Jabeur in straight sets the last time the two players met, in February.
But Jabeur is accustomed to tough finishes. That’s where Kubot belongs. Both have 31 wins between them, though Jabeur has less of an ATP ATP Tour ranking. Neither player is known for long winning streaks, so that could make Sunday’s match interesting, too.
As Jabeur stood on Court Suzanne Lenglen to challenge No. 9 Kei Nishikori, a Japanese favorite, the crowd was into it. The teenager made an excellent start to the match, breaking Kubot in the third game and earning three straight games in front of a partisan crowd. But Kubot would eventually win the second set and took the third 6-4 in under an hour, taking Jabeur to a semifinal against Novak Djokovic, the No. 6 player in the world.