London, United Kingdom – In Tunisia, Onz Jabir is affectionately known as the Minister of Happiness.
Jabir brings hope and joy to the African nation of 12 million, mired in economic and refugee crisis.
The 28-year-old from the historic city of Ksar Hellel has come a long way from the days when she followed her mother to the local tennis courts as a toddler. In a country where the king of football and tennis were once far behind in popularity, Jabir won hearts with his success and warmth.
Representatives of @ones_jabeer The fan club is active again 🇹🇳
— wta (@WTA) July 14, 2023
“How can you not like that smile?” said British Tunisian Slim Belhaj, a self-proclaimed “super fan” of the Wimbledon finalist.
“No disrespect to other players, but they are focused on the result and they don’t smile very often,” he said, adding that Jabir’s ability to blend emotion with skill makes her unique and universally admired.
“Even her opponents love her and she is very good friends with current and former players,” he added.
‘Happy to see a Muslim woman excelling in sports’
Indeed, the players show their support and enthusiasm whenever the Tunisian progress to the final stages of a major tournament.
Former world number one and six-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters tweeted: “And victory!” After Jabir made it to the finals.
Some success! 💪🏻
— Kim Clijsters (@Clijsterskim) July 13, 2023
Aryna Zabalenka, the pre-tournament second seed whom Jabeer beat in the semi-finals, tweeted: “Huge congratulations to @onsjabeur for an incredible performance. I hate you now, but you know I love you anyway! Good luck with the finals, you got this.
Thanks to those who supported me during these two weeks! I really enjoyed my time at Wimbledon 🤍
Big congratulations @onsjabeur Incredible performance 💪 I hate you now but you know I love you anyway!🙈😂Good luck in the finals, you got it💪
And I know there’s always…
— Sabalenka Arina (@SabalenkaA) July 13, 2023
Sasha Bhatt, director of mental health at England’s National Health Service, said Jabir’s display was warmth towards opponents and respect for his own values.
“It’s good to see a Muslim woman excelling in sports and not afraid to be loyal,” Bhatt said.
“I’ve seen her play live – she’s an amazing player, so fun to watch,” she added.
When Jabir lost to Elina Rybakina of Kazakhstan in last year’s Wimbledon final, she became upset during this year’s press conference.
“That match is still too painful for me to watch,” Jabir said after beating the same opponent in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
“Wimbledon is the tournament I’ve always wanted to win, so I hope to do it this time,” she said with a beaming smile.
— Wimbledon (@wimbledon) July 14, 2023
‘in a billion’
Belhaj, a Tunisian fan who moved to England 30 years ago, says all of Tunisia will stop when Jabir steps onto Center Court on Saturday.
“People are going to fill coffee shops and restaurants and arrange watch parties with friends when Ons is playing,” he said.
“She’s our only hope for a gold medal or a big sporting title, she gives us hope and joy – she’s one in a billion,” Belhaj said with a laugh, showing off a collection of posters he’d prepared in advance. The final.
The world number six is used to taking a dig at some of his opponents with humorous posts on social media. Her latest target was men’s leading Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic, whose post-match reaction she mocked for hitting the center court grass.
After each consecutive win, her posts are filled with fans claiming the player as their own.
Comments such as “Pride of the Arab world”, “Arabia is winning” and “All of Africa is proud of you” were mixed with congratulatory messages from football stars, film and TV celebrities and social media influencers.
Her journey gives us hope
At Wimbledon, every time Jabir stepped onto the court, she had the partisan support of the crowd. Their reason for supporting the passionate athlete is simple: her rare ability to connect with fans while playing a high-pressure match.
“She has a lot of integrity and charisma when she plays and it shines when she’s on court and it’s very exciting to watch,” London-based tennis fan Harj Rehal told Al Jazeera. Famous Wimbledon Hill to watch Jabir’s semi-final.
“What she stands for, where she’s from, how she’s taken her journey makes her so relatable, and hopefully with the support of family and friends, you can live your dreams,” Rehal said.
Jabir’s husband Karim Kamoon, a former fencer, has been her fitness coach for over six years.
“It’s amazing that her husband is her number one supporter and plays a part in her success on the court,” Rehal said.
Jabir says all his fans have become coaches in Tunisia.
“Some of them have been texting my mental conditioning coach (Melanie Maillard) to give me advice and I wouldn’t be surprised if they text Kareem and Isam (coach),” she told Al Jazeera after the semi-final win. .
But how does Tunisia’s minister of happiness manage the weight of expectations?
“They are a joke, but they always remind me: win or lose, we love you – but this time, I hope to make history for Tunisia and all of Africa.”