MELBOURNE: Ons Jabeur began her latest bid to become the first Arab and African woman to claim a Grand Slam title with a comfortable 6-3 6-1 win over Yuliia Starodubtseva on Monday (Jan 15).
The smiling sixth seed – who fans have dubbed Tunisia’s “Minister of Happiness” – came within touching distance of Grand Slam glory previously by reaching the last two Wimbledon finals and finishing runner-up to Iga Swiatek at the 2022 US Open.
“It’s very special to come back here,” said Jabeur, who crashed out in the second round in 2023 amid health issues. “I decided to rest a bit before the Australian Open and play here.
“Last year wasn’t so great for me here and I was a little stressed, but the crowd made me feel less stressed. I saw some guys I’ve known from 2016 cheering for me when I was playing qualifying. They’ve been following me since qualifying.
“Thank you for coming and supporting me for so many years.”
In a tricky opening set, Jabeur twice swapped breaks with her Ukrainian opponent but broke to lead 5-3 after an 11-minute game featuring six deuces before pulling away for the early lead.
The 29-year-old looked far more assured in the second set as she took a 3-1 lead with an overhead smash and almost toyed with her opponent with some delightful slices to seal the victory and set up a meeting with either Mirra Andreeva or Bernarda Pera.