As Camila Osorio hugged Ons Jabeur at the net following their match on Tuesday, she almost looked as if she were holding Jabeur upright. Jabeur was exhausted and drained, sweat saturating her tennis uniform. She had managed to defeat Osorio, 7-5, 7-6 (4), but she was so weary and wobbly that Osorio asked her if she was OK.
“I told her, ‘Not really,’” Jabeur, a Tunisian seeded fifth in singles, said in an on-court interview following her first-round victory at the U.S. Open.
Jabeur reached the final at this tournament last year and is a sentimental favorite of tennis fans worldwide. But those fans will be concerned over whether Jabeur is healthy enough to get back to the championship match. Last week, Jabeur mentioned that she was suffering from nasal congestion, but it appeared to have worsened significantly 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 has not been a smooth several weeks for Jabeur since her loss to Marketa Vondrousova in the Wimbledon final in July. She took time off after that demoralizing defeat, then played the Western & Southern Open outside Cincinnati, where she won two matches before falling to Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets. During that match, Jabeur needed medical attention for a foot injury.
That ailment did not seem to affect her play against Osorio, an unseeded Colombian, but Jabeur still needed help from a tournament doc tor during the match because of her illness. She took some medicine, and even though she was able to remain upright and win, it was an obvious struggle. She sweated through her clothes and needed a full change of uniform at one point, apologizing to Osorio at the net for all the delays.
“I know it is tough to play a player who is injured or not feeling well on the court,” Jabeur said.
Playing in Louis Armstrong Stadium, Jabeur said the audience’s support helped her through the match, just as Coco Gauff, the American star seeded sixth, said the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium helped her through her tightly contested match with Laura Siegemund of Germany on Monday. A prolonged dispute over how long Siegemund took to serve and to be in position to receive Gauff’s serves ramped up the tension. The pro-Gauff crowd turned on Siegemund, who later said she had been grossly mistreated.
“I have to say I am very, very disappointed of the way people treated me today,” she said.
She added: “They had no respect for the player that I am. They have no respect for tennis, for good tennis. This is something that I have to say hurts really bad.”
Fans clapped when Siegemund missed her first serves, which is not considered appropriate decorum in tennis, and even Gauff signaled several times for the crowd to stop. Also, even on tough rallies Siegemund won, there were times when no one clapped for her.
By contrast, it was all love and respect on Tuesday in Armstrong Stadium, where both Jabeur and Osorio played without any tension. When it was over, the fans sang “Happy Birthday” to Jabeur, who turned 29 on Monday.
“I’m feeling blessed to have all of this,” Jabeur told the fans. “For me, it’s more important than to win any match because I know that any love you get from people you will cherish until the end of your life, not your career.”