By Oli Dickson Jefford at Wimbledon
Ons Jabeur produces magic from her racket but one of tennis’ greatest magicians ran out of tricks against Elena Rybakina in the Wimbledon final.
Saturday’s final was an historic occasion, the first Grand Slam final in the Open Era with no European, American or Australian player involved - a sign of the sport’s growing diversity.
Jabeur was a set away from becoming the first Arab or African woman to win one of tennis' four biggest events, yet that well-discussed history may have ultimately weighed down on her.
The crafty, beguiling tennis that won her the opening set slipped away ever so slightly, with a resurgent Rybakina prevailing 3-6 6-2 6-2 to win her first Grand Slam title.
Credit must go to the Kazakh for her response after being broken twice in the first set, but there is no doubt that Jabeur’s game lost its sparkle as the contest progressed.
Her make or break forehand began to break more than make, and her serve lost the pop that had made it such a weapon in the opener.
It is unfair to say she completely crumbled, and she was presented with three break back points trailing 2-3 in the decider, but she could not take her chances - and did not win another game.
Humble as always the 27-year-old praised her opponent, but could not hide disappointment at her own vulnerabilities.
“There is only one winner. But it's a great first experience for me. I'm looking forward for my next finals. I'm sure I will learn a lot from this one,” she said.
“I didn't play my best tennis in the second and third sets. She started to be more aggressive. I think she stepped in the court much more and put a lot of pressure on me. That I didn't find a solution for today unfortunately.
“I know I've been winning like the first set, and for some reason drop in the second set. I was trying really hard to win my serve at the beginning. I felt like I was going really fast, even making some mistakes. I felt like she was playing better in the second and third set because she made less mistakes.
“I was expecting myself maybe to return better, especially take the opportunities that I have to break her so many times.
“I think she played really well. She really deserved to win today.”
Jabeur may not have won the title but she has won the hearts of the Wimbledon crowd, who were certainly cheering for her more than Rybakina today.
And though there was no maiden Grand Slam victory for her, she leaves the All England Club with her head held high - and with an ever-growing fan base.
She added: “You know, I really gave it all these two weeks. It's been amazing. A lot of great memories here with the crowd.
“I would love to thank them. I really cannot wait to play my next tournament, especially since I'm going to the States, and I know there are a lot of crazy fans there.
“This is just the beginning of so many things. I'm very positive about it. I really wanted that title. Maybe because I wanted it too much, I didn't have it, but it is just the beginning of great things for me.
“I will leave happy, with a smile, big smile always. Tennis is just a sport for me. The most important thing that I feel good about myself.
“Always happy. Like Bob Marley said: “Don't worry, be happy.’”