As Camila Osorio hugged Ons Jabeur in the net following their match on Tuesday, she almost looked like she was holding Jabeur upright. Jabeur was exhausted and running out of water, his tennis uniform soaked. He managed to beat Osorio, 7-5, 7-6 (4), but he was so tired and shaky that Osorio asked him if he was OK.
“I told him, ‘Not really,'” Jabeur, a Tunisian seeded fifth in singles, said in an on-court interview following his first-round win at the US Open.
Jabeur reached the final of this tournament last year and is a sentimental favorite of tennis fans around the world. But those fans will be concerned about whether Jabeur is healthy enough to return to the championship match. Last week, Jabeur mentioned that he was suffering from nasal congestion, but it got much worse on Tuesday. She left the tournament grounds in Queens after her match and will have a day to recover before she faces Linda Noskova, an unseeded 18-year-old Czech, in the second round on Thursday.
It hasn’t been a good few weeks for Jabeur since she lost to Marketa Vondrousova in the Wimbledon final in July. She rested after that heartbreaking loss, then played in the Western & Southern Open outside of Cincinnati, where she won two matches before falling to Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets. During that match, Jabeur needed medical attention for a leg injury.
That illness did not seem to affect his play against Osorio, an unseeded Colombian, but Jabeur still needed help from a tournament doctor during the match due to his illness. He took medicine, and even though he managed to stay upright and win, it was clearly a struggle. He sweated through his clothes and required a complete uniform change at one point, apologizing to Osorio in net for all the delays.
“I know it’s hard to play a player who is injured or not feeling well on the court,” Jabeur said.
Playing at Louis Armstrong Stadium, Jabeur said the audience’s support helped him in the match, just as Coco Gauff, the American star seeded sixth, said the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium helped him in his tight battle with Germany’s Laura Siegemund on Monday. A long-running dispute over how long Siegemund served and was in position to receive Gauff’s serves raised tensions. The pro-Gauff crowd turned on Siegemund, who later claimed he had been badly mistreated.
“I have to say that I am very, very disappointed with the way people are treating me today,” he said.
He added: “They have no respect for the player that I am. They have no respect for tennis, for good tennis. It’s something I have to say that is very painful.”
The fans cheered when Siegemund missed his first serve, which is not considered proper tennis etiquette, and even Gauff signaled several times for the crowd to stop. Also, even in difficult rallies Siegemund won, there were times when no one cheered for him.
By contrast, it was all love and respect Tuesday at Armstrong Stadium, where both Jabeur and Osorio played without any tension. When it was over, fans sang “Happy Birthday” to Jabeur, who turned 29 on Monday.
“I’m feeling blessed to have all of this,” said Jabeur to the fans. “For me, it’s more important than winning any fight because I know any love you get from the people you’ll love until the end of your life, not your career.”