Ons Jabeur survives wobble to topple Ajla Tomljanović in US Open last eight

Ons Jabeur seemed to be well on her way to a first US Open semi-final when she faced some complications and became increasingly frustrated, tossing her racket around. Jabeur had controlled her quarter-final match against Ajla Tomljanović for much of its duration, establishing a set and a break lead, but a few loose errors arrested her momentum. From 3-2 in the second set, she trailed 5-3, a deciding set closing in.

In the past, the second set would have certainly fallen and possibly also the match, but Jabeur is a different player these days. Down 5-3, she refused to miss in the pivotal moments and beat Tomljanović 6-4, 7-6 (4) to make the last four.

“I think I’m going to be fired from my job as Minister of Happiness,” said Jabeur, laughing. “It is sometimes tough to manage the frustration. Tennis is a tough sport. I apologise for my behaviour. I wanted to keep calm but the racket kept slipping from my hand.”

Last week, Tomljanović spectacularly left her mark on this same stage, defeating Serena Williams in the Arthur Ashe Stadium to likely end the American’s career. Her next win against the in-form Russian Liudmila Samsonova underlined the challenge that she posed to the best players, with her excellent shot tolerance, depth and her ability to both soak up pace and counter. She was prepared to punish any lapses from Jabeur.

But Jabeur is now a top player at the height of her powers. She smothered Tomljanović early on, taking control with her forehand. Jabeur lost that freedom during her second-set struggles but found an effective balance between attacking and avoiding mistakes, offering Tomljanović few free points when it mattered as she ground out a straight-sets win.

After coming so close to winning Wimbledon this summer, Jabeur has used the experience to continue her gradual ascension to the top. Despite not gaining any points from a grand slam final appearance, Jabeur now sits at No 2 in the live rankings, though her final position is not certain.

“I think the fact that I broke that barrier of being in the quarter-finals all the time, that did help with my confidence. Knowing that I could make finals in grand slams really helped my game, just trying to build that experience to go into second weeks in grand slams.”

The Tunisian remains in the form of her life, her ball striking free and sharp, and is armed with greater experience and discipline. She will face Caroline Garcia, who saw off home hope Coco Gauff, as she continues to play for the title. “I am very satisfied with the semi-final, but now, only two matches left. I’m going to give it all,” said Jabeur.

While Jabeur advanced to a second grand slam semi-final in as many tournaments, a second consecutive grand slam quarter-final marked the end of the road for Tomljanović. She will rise to a new career high ranking of 34 and has shown that she can go further.

Despite her progress, Tomljanović wasn’t quite ready to reflect on her wins so soon after defeat and she lamented the lack of points at Wimbledon that has limited how high she will rise after the best few months of her career. Had Wimbledon offered points, she would be ranked inside the top 25, not too far from the top 20, where she sees herself.

“It feels like one quarter-final, because the other one doesn’t count, so it’s like I’m in a position that sucks right now, because I’m still fighting to be top 30, and I don’t even know what I’m playing next. I don’t even know what there is to play,” she said.

“I just know that I’m not the player to chase points. Flying tomorrow and then playing on Monday. I don’t even know if I can do that. I don’t know if I want to do that. But at the same time, I want to be in that group of players where I deserve to be.”

Eventually, 29 year-old Tomljanović will reflect on another great tournament as she took another step forward in this late career breakthrough and produced an unforgettable memory by standing strong before a crowd of 24,000 people cheering for her opponent, eventually ending the career of Williams, her idol.

“I’m already thinking about what I’m playing next, so I probably should reflect a little bit and just give myself a little pat on the back, because I do deserve it,” she said. “It’s probably my biggest thing that I’m bad at that I just don’t give myself enough credit. I’m very hard on myself. Someone should come up to me and just say that I should give myself credit now, because it’s due.”