WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — From where Ons Jabeur was sitting on Centre Court, a spot in the Wimbledon semifinals was as good as guaranteed.
The sixth-seeded Tunisian walked into the main stadium at the All England Club on Wednesday to play Elena Rybakina in a rematch of last year’s final. Jabeur lost that time, but not this time — later joking that it was possibly thanks to the seating arrangements.
“When we entered the court, felt like a similar feeling of playing (the) same match against her. But I made sure I changed seats this time. I went for the other seat that she won (from) last year,” Jabeur said. “Maybe it’s the seat that made me win today.”
Jabeur, who last year became the first woman from North Africa and first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final, beat the defending champion 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1.
She won eight of the final nine games, mixing her drop shots and slices throughout with some hard-hitting forehands and backhands.
“Last year maybe I wasn’t ready to play this kind of match,” Jabeur said. “I don’t regret last year. It happened for a reason. I always say it. It was meant to be this year. It was meant to be in the quarterfinals.”
After reaching last year’s Wimbledon final, Jabeur made it to the deciding match at the U.S. Open. In New York, she lost to Iga Swiatek.
Rybakina followed up her Wimbledon title with a first-round exit at that U.S. Open, but she then made the final at the Australian Open at the start of this year.
“Some moments I play really well, but was not consistent,” Rybakina said of Wednesday’s match. “Since physically (I) was not the greatest, then the wrong decisions came.”
For Jabeur to get back into the final, she will have to beat Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka. The second-seeded Belarusian advanced by beating Madison Keys 6-2, 6-4 on No. 1 Court.
That match will be second on Centre Court on Thursday, after Elina Svitolina faces Marketa Vondrousova in the other women’s semifinal match.
Sabalenka reached the Wimbledon semifinals for the second straight time, with a one-year break in between because she was banned from the tournament in 2022 along with other players from her country and from Russia because of the war in Ukraine.
“I was really sad that I couldn’t play here last year,” Sabalenka said. “But at the same time I was thinking that, OK, it’s a good time to kind of, like, reset and start everything over again.”
Sabalenka’s victory improved her record to 17-1 at major tournaments this year. She is the only former Grand Slam champion remaining in the women’s tournament.
Keys was trying to complete a full set of Grand Slam semifinal appearances but she lost for the second time in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Her only major final came at the 2017 U.S. Open, when she lost to Sloane Stephens.
So for Keys, the build-up to that final major of the season starts now.
“I’m always looking forward to the U.S. hard court swing. I’ve had a lot of success there. It’s some of my favorite tournaments,” Keys said. ”If I can just kind of keep up the hard work and continue to do what I did to build coming into this grass-court season, I think that there’s plenty of opportunity.”