Close friends Ons Jabeur and Tatjana Maria will meet in the Wimbledon semi-finals

WIMBLEDON, England — Working mother of two, Tatjana Maria took over childcare on Tuesday.

As she and Charles-Edouard, her husband and coach, made their way to Court 1 for the biggest match of his career, their daughters, Charlotte, 8, and Cecilia, 1, were happily settled in the Wimbledon day. care center, one of Charlotte’s favorite places on tour.

At the time the family came together, Maria was a Wimbledon semi-finalist.

“I’m so happy that Charlotte is old enough to understand all this,” Maria said after her brave and resourceful 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over fellow 22-year-old Germany’s Jule Niemeier.

There have been bigger shocks in women’s tennis: See British teenager Emma Raducanu win the US Open women’s singles title as a qualifier on her first visit last year.

But Maria’s run was certainly a major and emotional surprise. She is 34 years old and gave birth to Cecilia just over a year ago. She arrived at Wimbledon ranked 103rd in singles and having lost in the first round in her last eight Grand Slam singles tournaments.

“I have goosebumps everywhere,” she said after beating Niemeier in one of the most entertaining matches of the women’s tournament, dropping her racquet and covering her face with both hands after converting the ball of game.

Maria, who lives with her family in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, has a throwback game seemingly more in tune with the 20th century than the 21st with her heavy reliance on the slice, including the forehand slice, and one yen for the tenderloin.

But in this wild and often open Wimbledon, she will now face close friend Ons Jabeur on Thursday for a place in the final. Jabeur, the No. 3 seed, defeated unseeded Marie Bouzkova 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 on center court on Tuesday.

“I love Tatjana so much and her family is truly amazing,” Jabeur said. “She’s my barbecue girlfriend, so it’s going to be hard to play her obviously.”

It’s uncharted territory for both, and Jabeur, a 27-year-old Tunisian with an eye-catching all-court game, has quite a story to her. She will be the first Arab woman to play in a Grand Slam singles semi-final and has become a symbol of hope and new possibilities in her region.

But Jabeur, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon last year, has already been within reach of such tennis success. Maria hadn’t made it past the third round of a Grand Slam singles tournament so far and had only made it past the second round once: at Wimbledon in 2015.

“I always believed that I had something inside,” Maria said. “I always believed in this, but now being here in this place. …”

Maria paused for a moment.

“A year ago I gave birth to my second daughter,” she said. “If someone told me that a year later you are in the semi-finals of Wimbledon, that’s crazy.”

Think of her husband as crazy.

“Of course it’s surprising to other people, but I believe in my wife, and I always tell her that I know she’s capable of doing greater things,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. in French often interrupted by pats on the back of congratulations and handshakes from other players and coaches.

“Tatjana is a warrior,” he continued. “From the first point to the last, from January 1 to December 31, she never gives anyone a free point. That’s her strength, but she’s also able to put it all in proper perspective because we have family.

Maria is the first mother to advance this far at Wimbledon since fellow Palm Beach Gardens resident Serena Williams reached the final in 2019. But Maria was on tour with a child long before Williams, whose daughter, Olympia, has 4 years. Williams and Maria exchanged tips when Williams returned to play at Wimbledon this year aged 40 after nearly a year away from the tour.

“When Serena arrived, I told her that the nursery was already open, because she didn’t know, and her little one went there,” says Maria. “It’s great that Serena is still playing tennis with a child.”

Maria said her main role model as a tennis-playing mother was Kim Clijsters, the Belgian who is now permanently retired but won three Grand Slam singles titles after giving birth to daughter Jada in 2008.

“I was one of the first after Kim,” Maria said. “She was my inspiration, and I hope that maybe I can be an inspiration to others.”

Clijsters, 39 and now a mother of three, was watching at Wimbledon on Tuesday. “Amazing to see,” she said of Maria’s unexpected success.

The Marias travel the world but do not need to leave their homes to be international.

At home, Tatjana Maria speaks German to their children and Charles-Edouard, a former French professional who played on the satellite tour, speaks French. Her mother, a frequent visitor, speaks her mother tongue, Spanish, to her grandchildren while Charlotte is enrolled in an online academy whose primary language is English.

“Charlotte speaks four languages,” said Charles-Edouard Maria.

She is also a promising and enthusiastic tennis player, coached mainly by her father but also a frequent sparring partner for her mother. She even warms it up before matches, but not at Wimbledon this year. Surprisingly, their frequent practice sessions didn’t just help Charlotte’s game.

“We have a court at home, and every day during the confinement and the pandemic, Tatjana trained with her,” said Charles-Edouard. “And that’s really been a plus for Tatjana’s game, because by showing things to Charlotte, she had to go back to basics and that refreshed her game, and she built on that. That’s one of the reasons why she plays much better than before.

Maria won a WTA 250 event in Bogotá, Colombia this season on clay: her second singles title on the main tour. The other came to Mallorca in 2018 on grass, which foreshadowed this Wimbledon.

She has a solid and relatively flat first serve, and her ability to hit hard-cut shots from both wings keeps the ball especially low on the grass. This makes it harder for opponents to attack, and Maria defused powerful opposition here, upsetting three seeded players: No.26 Sorana Cirstea of ​​Romania, No.5 Maria Sakkari of Greece and No.12 Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia.

Niemeier, who was making her Wimbledon debut, also had big and varied guns, despite being ranked just 97th. Watching her fight on all courts with Maria often felt like stepping into a tennis time machine with both players chipping and charging the net and Niemeier frequently serving and volleying and hitting over after over as Maria threw towering, often beautifully placed lobs.

Niemeier looked to be in command, coming up 4-2 in the third set, but Maria continued to unravel and improvise as she ran to close the gap. She saved a break point at 5-5, then held at 6-5 after a scrambled point that earned her a standing ovation from much of the crowd. She broke Niemeier’s serve to close out her most important victory.

A few hours later, Jabeur closed his at Wimbledon. Next step: a surprise semi-final against his barbecue friend.

“She is one of the examples that I would like the players to look up to,” Jabeur said of Maria. “Because she really suffered to play and win sets in Grand Slams and now look at her. A Wimbledon semi-finalist after having two babies. It’s a really amazing story.

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