Close friends of Ons Jabeur and Tatjana Maria meet in Wimbledon semifinals

WIMBLEDON, England — Tatjana Maria, a working mother of two, was on top of childcare on Tuesday.

When she and Charles-Edouard, her husband and coach, went to No. 1 in the biggest match of their careers. 1 Court, her daughters, 8-year-old Charlotte and 1-year-old Cecilia, were happily nestled in the Wimbledon day care centre, one of Charlotte’s favorite places to tour.

When the family got back together, Maria was a Wimbledon semi-finalist.

“I’m so glad that Charlotte is old enough to understand all this,” said Maria after her courageous, resourceful 4:6, 6:2, 7:5 victory over her 22-year-old German compatriot Jule Niemeier.

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

But Maria’s run was certainly a big and moving surprise. She is 34 and gave birth to Cecilia just over a year ago. She reached Wimbledon 103rd in singles and lost in the first round of her last eight Grand Slam singles tournaments.

“I have goosebumps everywhere,” she said after defeating Niemeier in one of the shortest matches of the women’s tournament, dropping her racquet and covering her face with both hands after salvaging match point.

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

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

“I love Tatjana so much and her family is really amazing,” Jabeur said. “She’s my grill buddy, so obviously it’s going to be difficult to play her.”

This is new territory for both of them, and Jabeur, a 27-year-old Tunisian with a flashy all-court game, has a story all her own. 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 opportunities in her region.

But Jabeur, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon last year, was already on the verge of such tennis success. Maria had never progressed past the third round of a singles Grand Slam tournament and had made it through the second round only once: at Wimbledon in 2015.

“I’ve always believed I had something inside me,” Maria said. “I’ve always believed in it, but to be here in this place now. …”

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 were in a Wimbledon semi-final, that would be crazy.”

Think her husband is crazy.

“Of course it comes as a surprise to others, but I believe in my wife and I always tell her that I know she is capable of greater things,” he said Tuesday in an interview in French, often accompanied by a congratulatory slap on the back Handshakes were interrupted by other players and coaches.

“Tatyana is a warrior,” he continued. “From the first point to the last point, from January 1st to December 31st, she does not give anyone a free point. That’s her strength, but she can also put everything in perspective because we have the family.”

Maria is the first mum to make it this far at Wimbledon since Serena Williams, another Palm Beach Gardens resident, reached the final in 2019. But Maria toured with a child in tow long before Williams, whose daughter Olympia 4 Maria exchanged tips when Williams returned from the tour this year aged 40 after almost a year’s absence to play at Wimbledon.

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

Maria said her main role model as a tennis-playing mother is Kim Clijsters, the Belgian who is now permanently retired but has 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 I can maybe be an inspiration to others.”

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

The Marias travel the world but don’t have to leave home to be international.

At home, Tatjana Maria speaks German with her children and Charles-Edouard, a former French professional who played on the satellite tour, speaks French. His mother, a frequent visitor, speaks her native language, 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, being coached primarily by her father but also being a frequent training partner for her mother. She even warms them up before games, albeit not at Wimbledon this year. Surprisingly, her frequent training sessions haven’t just helped Charlotte’s game.

“We have a place in the house and Tatjana trained with her every day during the lockdown and the pandemic,” said Charles-Edouard. “And it was really 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’s playing much better than before.”

Maria won a WTA 250 event in Bogotá, Colombia on clay that season: her second singles title on the Main Tour. The other came on grass in Mallorca in 2018, which was a foreshadowing for this Wimbledon.

She has a strong, relatively flat first serve, and her ability to hit hard sliced ​​shots off either wing keeps the ball particularly low on grass. That makes it harder for opponents to attack, and Maria defused some tough opponents here, upsetting three seeded players: No.26 Sorana Cirstea of ​​Romania, No.5 Maria Sakkari of Greece and No.12 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

Niemeier, making her Wimbledon debut, also had large and varied arms, although she only finished 97th. Watching her wrestle all courts with Maria often felt like stepping into a tennis time machine, with both players chipping and charging the net and Niemeier frequent overhead serves, volleys and smacks as Maria throws towering, often throwing beautifully placed lobs.

Niemeier appeared to be in command, taking a 4-2 lead in the decider, but Maria kept fighting and improvising on the run to close the gap. She saved a break point at 5-5, then held at 6-5 after a scrambling point that earned a standing ovation from much of the crowd. She broke Niemeier’s serve to end her most significant win.

A few hours later, Jabeur closed her own at Wimbledon. Next up: a surprise semi-final against her BBQ buddy.

“She’s one of those role models I wish players would look up to,” Jabeur said of Maria. “Because she really suffered to play in the Grand Slams and win rounds and now look at her. A Wimbledon semi-finalist after giving birth to two babies. It’s a really amazing story.”