Wimbledon 2022: Say hello to the Minister of Happiness

It was a fond but futile wish that Wimbledon could have remained impervious to the mayhem happening eight miles away in Downing Street - but Ons Jabeur had a brilliant answer when tennis got dragged into politics.

Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina returns the ball to Romania's Simona Halep  during their women's singles semi final tennis match on the eleventh day of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 7, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina returns the ball to Romania's Simona Halep during their women's singles semi final tennis match on the eleventh day of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 7, 2022. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

With Sir Keir Starmer a Royal Box guest on the day the job he craves suddenly and dramatically became available, the world No2 was asked if he’d made a good choice coming to see her progress to tomorrow’s final.

“I don’t know - I’m the Minister of Happiness,” she quipped to much laughter. No joke, this is her nickname in her native Tunisia, such is her fame as the country’s sporting superstar. Even real politicians greet her with “Hello, Minister.”

And Jabeur, who will compete with Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina for the title, added: “I hope [Boris Johnson resigning] is good for you guys. I don’t really know what’s happening but I can see that people are happy. I hope this one will do a much better job.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Match winner Ons Jabeur of Tunisia embraces Tatjana Maria of German at the net following their Women's Singles Semi-Final match on day eleven of The Championships Wimbledon 2022 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 07, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Tomorrow will be momentous for Tunisia, anyway, and if Jabeur triumphs, all the more special. The national holiday, Eid al-Adha, is “like Christmas for you guys,” she explained. “I always miss it [because of tennis] and always want to be with the family. It reminds me of being a child. I mean, if I win on my favourite holiday, it’s going to be great.”

Janeur won through to her first Grand Slam final with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory over her great friend Tatjana Maria of Germany in a match of cunning slices and much bonhomie - and at the end, the longest embrace at the net of the whole tournament.

On her victory lap, Jabeur insisted Maria accompany her. “I wanted to share the moment with her because she’s such an inspiration for me and so many players.” Maria has returned to the game at the age of 34 as a mum of two, her youngest daughter being born just a year ago.

Jabeur, 27, cast her mind back to that child dreaming of one day winning Wimbledon. “I did a lot of times imagine myself giving the good speech, holding the trophy, all of that. Now I really need to hold it.”

Rybakina, six years her junior, will present a formidable barrier on the form she showed in disposing of Romania’s Simona Halep by a score of 6-3, 6-3. The powerful hitter, born and raised in Moscow but happily for her involvement in the tournament a Kazak player for the last three years, threatened Halep’s serve almost every time while her own, reaching speeds of 120mph, was too strong for the 2019 champ.

Admitting to surprise at her achievement, she said: “I didn’t expect to be here in the second week or the final. I believe I have a game to go far in Grand Slams but [before Wimbledon] I was injured and didn’t have good preparation. I came here relaxed and maybe this is something which helped me.

“In my earlier matches I had many ups and downs but here I felt solid and was only nervous close to the finish.” Not a player to show great emotion she was asked if a smile might break out were she to win the final. “I really don’t know how I would react,” she said.

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