Former ITF Junior Omar Laabidi has recalled being repeatedly beaten by a 12-year-old Ons Jabeur ahead of the Tunisian star’s French Open title bid.
Laabidi revealed that Jabeur was quickly nicknamed Roger Federer as she rose through the ranks in Hammam Sousse beating not only girls but boys as well.
This season Jabeur surged to a Maiden WTA 1000 victory at the Madrid Open at the age of 27 the first trophy of that level in her career to date.
It was apparent that she would be a star when she was a precocious girl handing out bagels to the boys.
“We used to call her Roger Federer,” he said.
Laabidi says that Jabeur’s drop-shot mastery is nothing new, recalling how a match against her left him with a broken arm
“One time during a training match she hit a drop shot that I tried so hard to return that I broke my arm,” he said.
Her first coach Nabil Mlika tells how Jabeur was nearly lost to tennis with handball teams trying hard to recruit the gifted athlete.
“She had great ball control, to the point where other coaches tried to attract her to handball,” said Mlika.
“Ons thought seriously about switching sport — but decided to stick to tennis.”
While Jabeur doesn’t get called Roger Federer anymore, Mlika has a title that certainly suits her: ‘The Queen of the drop shot’.
“She hates playing at one pace.
He adds: “She’s always trying to create a spectacle by switching up the game with shots that surprise her opponents, especially with drop shots.
“She’s really the queen of the drop shot.”
He says that Jabeur is a great role model for young tennis players and uses her to inspire his students to work hard and push themselves.
Mlika added: “She was a spark of enthusiasm, always moving and wanting to show that she was the best.
“She always put me in a difficult position because I had to balance between taking the training up a level, or waiting for her peers to catch up with her level and her pace.
“She still runs around gathering up all the balls during training, which she’s been doing since she started playing,” said Mlika.
Jabeur is immensely popular on tour and is known for her outgoing nature, which Labaadi says what she was always like growing up.
“She was always fun and quickly got to know strangers,” he said.
“But she was always provocative and competitively debating on all subjects.”
Jabeur reached two Grand Slam finals this season and looks set to be a big player in the 2023 WTA story.
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