EASTBOURNE – Ons Jabeur admits she drew some jealous looks in the dressing room after being chosen to partner Serena Williams in their long-awaited comeback.
Williams was due to train with Jabeur at Eastbourne on Monday afternoon but canceled their session with half an hour’s notice and is expected to score ahead of a doubles game against Sara Sorribes Tormo and Maria Bouzkova on Tuesday morning.
It will be Williams’ first competitive game since she limped out of the first round at Wimbledon last year, where this time she accepted a wildcard to play singles again.
The shocking announcement that her South Coast comeback was coming came last week, but it came as no surprise to Jabeur, who has known for several months that she would be partnering the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
Here’s how to watch Serena’s comeback
date: Tuesday 21 June
time: Fifth on Center Court, expected around 18.30
TV coverage: BBC Two, 1.15-5pm
Live broadcast: BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and app
“I’m a good Secret-Keeper!” said Jabeur.
“I told family and a close friend. But it was very difficult to say.
“I was super excited and tried not to show it and everyone found out and everyone texted me, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?!’ [but] I couldn’t, it was a secret.”
Far from being a doubles specialist, Jabeur will be singles world No. 2 on Monday when the Wimbledon opening day rankings update.
Jabeur then withdrew from the singles event in Eastbourne after winning the title in Berlin, but didn’t want to give up a chance to play doubles with someone she counts as one of her heroes.
“A lot of players were jealous because I play with her,” added Jabeur.
“Honestly, Serena is Serena. She is a legend and always will be. And the fact that she has come back and that I get to be a part of her journey is really incredible.
“She’s done a lot for our sport and I really respect her, respect her story, respect everything she’s been through. I hope that I can learn from it even like two percent.
“Now I’m joking with other doubles players, I was like, ‘If you have [less than] 20 Grand Slams, don’t even ask me to play doubles with you anymore.
“I don’t know why she chose me, but I’m honored.”
A week from Wimbledon, however, Jabeur will become a rival to Williams, and one who hopes to dodge her in Friday’s draw where the unseeded seven-time champion will be a dangerous floater.
“I can play well next to her now. Not in front, I’m fine!” Jabeur half-joked.
“I hope she goes with Iga [Swiatek, world No 1 unbeaten in 35 matches].
“Someone should stop Iga at least a little bit.”