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Tennis player Ons Jabeur is an idol in the Arab world

VMaybe the Tunisian Ons Jabeur had home games in Berlin. Again and again there were shouts in French, again and again she was cheered on in Arabic. When she defeated the American Coco Gauff in two sets in the semifinals of the grass tournament, her fans in the Steffi Graf Stadium threw up red flags with crescents and stars and let pride and joy run wild. Some sang their country’s anthem.

“We Tunisians like to have fun, we like to sing,” said the 28-year-old about the enthusiasm she triggered at the place of her recent successes – and thus clearly understated. What Germany experienced in the 1980s with the Boris Boom and Steffi enthusiasm, frenzied enthusiasm and widespread affection, Ons Jabeur has now triggered in Tunisia and parts of the Arab world. Appropriately, she won the Berlin tournament, with a score of 6:3, 2:1, she benefited from the injury-related resignation of the Swiss Olympic champion Belinda Bencic. Jabeur thus moves up one place to third in the world rankings this Monday.

On the very first day of the tournament, the charge d’affaires at the Tunisian Embassy paid his respects to his country’s most famous daughter. “Let me take a selfie with you,” shouted a fan from the crowd at the weekend, who surrounded her after the game: “I sat on the train for five hours to see you.” From Berlin, from the south and West Germany, their compatriots had traveled from Warsaw and Prague.

“You can definitely see me as a German”

Tunisian journalists write that she brings her people so much happiness and joy that she can justifiably be called her country’s Minister of Fun. “Tennis in Berlin is reviving,” said organizer Edwin Weindorfer on Sunday: “After two years of the pandemic, the fans are here again. With the live broadcast of the final, the Bett 1 Opens are the focus of attention in every Tunisian household.” It has been possible to integrate an entire continent.

The fan communities of the best tennis players in the world are good for the event and the organizer. Bencic, last year in the final, offered himself up to the public for adoption before the final. “You can definitely see me as a German,” she called into the stadium in German over the microphone.

The large community of Polish immigrants and Berliners of Polish origin was not vocal in their disappointment at the short-term absence of Iga Swiątek, the world number one from Poland. Adam Szpyt, who came to Berlin from Poland at the age of six and gained respect and prosperity with the mattress company Bett1 he founded, sponsors the tournament. As if to console him, he referred to the high sporting level of the event and the internationality of his hometown of Berlin. The Austrian Weindorfer, on the other hand, made it clear how much the player’s cancellation affected him. It makes a difference whether Jabeur or Swiątek, whether a player from Tunisia or Poland plays in the final, he said. You can’t sell tickets to fans of some if they don’t live locally, for others he has prepared a huge marketing campaign in their home country.

Cancellation by Swiątek

The hype about Swiątek, who recently won the Grand Slam tournament in Paris, is as great in Poland as the enthusiasm for Ons Jabeur in Tunisia. From the Polish border, however, it is only three quarters of an hour to Berlin on the shortest route. Swiątek, cover girl of the program and eye-catcher of the posters, canceled her participation two days before the tournament, allegedly to spare her shoulder. This did not cause him any major financial damage, said Weindorfer, but made no secret of his anger.

Finally, in the third year of the tournament, he’s defaulted by two years without an audience because of the pandemic. WTA as well as ATP, the organizations of tennis professionals, should introduce consequences for short-term and unfounded cancellations, he demanded. Barbara Rittner, national coach and tournament director in Berlin, supports him. It’s not a penalty for top players to be fined $20,000, she said. However, the WTA, which they perceive as “overprotective”, should inculcate a greater sense of responsibility in players and their management. “The top players lack that,” she complained: “They are very, very selfish.”

Only those who raise expectations can disappoint. Weindorfer promised that next year he would put together a feel-good package for Iga Swiątek, including a first-class mattress. Then he expects his tournament to be almost sold out not only at the weekend, but on four or five days. Gone are the days when the Germans and especially the Berliners could cheer Steffi Graf, who won eight times in Berlin from 1986 to 1996. With her resignation in 1999, the decline of the German Open in Berlin began. In 2004 the German Tennis Association sold the license for the tournament to Qatar. A new era for tennis in Berlin has begun.

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