Ons Jabeur explains how Serena Williams requested doubles link-up – ‘Never expected it’

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Ons Jabeur has explained how her doubles partnership with Serena Williams came about after being picked to accompany the 40-year-old in her return to competition. The 23-time Major champion has not played since retiring injured at Wimbledon last year and is making her comeback in the doubles event in Eastbourne before playing singles at the All England Club.

Williams announced her return to competition last week in an Instagram post, confirming she would be back at SW19 as a wildcard. She was later also announced as a recipient of another wildcard for the doubles event at the Eastbourne International, partnering world No 3 Jabeur. The Tunisian has now explained how the partnership came about, admitting she “never expected” the former world No 1 to pick her.

“Before we just talked a little bit and we never really talked tennis. She was just very nice and I love kids so much and I saw Olympia, she was so cute and I said, like, she is really cute,” she smiled. “But it was Eric, Venus’ coach, he is with her, he was playing here and he asked if I would consider doubles.”

The American is no longer working with Patrick Mouratoglou – her coach of ten years – and sister Venus’ coach Eric Hechtman reposted her Instagram announcement to his story and confirmed he would be travelling to Eastbourne and London with Serena. Jabeur continued: “Not a second to think about it. It’s an obvious ‘Yes’.”

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But the 27-year-old is yet to hit with her doubles partner and may not get a chance to until Tuesday, after Williams cancelled her practise session at Devonshire Park with 30 minutes’ notice on Monday. Jabeur continued: “I cannot wait to see her, I haven’t seen her yet. Hopefully we will get together and talk a little bit and see. Because I’m really pumped, I want to win this doubles and why not win the title here, you know?”

And the newly-crowned champion in Berlin also opened up on the disbelief of being selected as Williams’ partner. “Serena is such a fighter on the court. I really admire her story, admire everything that she did for us, for women’s tennis,” she said.

“I was lucky enough to be on tour with her a little bit and that she spoke to me a couple of times and that she recognised me, she knows my name, I’m talking away before in 2017. She’s such an inspiration and the fact that we’re playing doubles together.

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“It’s huge news for me and it’s unbelievable, I honestly never expected her to pick me or even to play doubles after a long time. But I feel like I’m going way back and all the memories of watching her winning a lot of Grand Slams. I hope it’s not going to make me too nervous, standing next to her.”

The world No 3 also lifted the lid on what it was like keeping their partnership a secret, having been asked before the French Open, though sad the mystery was purely down to the logistics of requesting a wildcard. “I’m a good secret keeper!” she laughed.

“Yes, I’ve known before the French Open. I told some close family and one close friend. But it was very tough to say it. But I was super excited and I tried not to show it and everybody found out and everyone was texting me, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I couldn’t, it was a secret. Just the fact that we asked for a wild card, you know. It’s a procedure thing, you know? Probably everything had their own time and we had to announce a week before and I respected that.”

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