By: MOHD FARIQ
MY knowledge of Tunisia is limited to the cordial relationship I enjoyed with Hatem Souissi when he was tasked to handle the Malaysian side for the 1997 FIFA World Cup under-20.
Strictly professional yet amiable with the Press corp, Souissi or just Hatem to the media personnel, was made the interim coach of the national team that was rocked with the controversial Disco Six incident ahead of the 1995 Merdeka Tournament.
Due to my expose, the six players who broke curfew by sneaking out of Wisma FAM to dance the night away in a disco, were banned for a certain period. I was summoned to have an audience with the then FA of Malaysia (FAM) president, the late Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah, to verify the report.
But fret not, I am not one to dwell on the transgressions of the players.
Hatem has long gone back to Tunisia after a stint with Negeri Sembilan as well but his fellow Tunisian, Ons Jabeur, appears to be the flavour of the week.
The highest ranked African female tennis star, the highest ranked from an Arabic country may have lost the Wimbledon final but she has won over the hearts and minds of neutral observers since reaching the last eight of the 2020 Australian Open. Having created history by becoming the first Arab woman to win a WTA Tour title – the Birmingham Classic in 2021 – Jabeur is indeed a future grand slam prospect.
Back home in Tunisia, she represents a new image for women’s sport. Thanks to her ever-smiling face, her fellow Tunisians call her Minister of Happiness. She has the full support of the country whenever she takes court, especially her double act with Serena Williams.
Having made the quarterfinals for the first time at Wimbledon last year, Jabeur’s fairytale run this year was ended by Russian-born Elena Rybakina, now representing Kazakhstan.
But on the way she knocked out five-time champion Venus Williams, 2017 winner Garbine Muguruza, as well as current number one Iga Swiatek.
We will hear more of Jabeur for sure.
Malaysians, meanwhile, remains proud of Nick Hilmy Kyrgios, the Malaysian-descent Australian star. A year younger than Jabeur, he too suffered the same fate as the Tunisian, finishing as runners-up in the men’s final after losing to Novak Djokovic.
In contrast to the smiling face of Jabeur, Kyrgios’s half-kampung kid reputation in Malaysia is overshadowed by his fiery background.
His mother, Tengku Norlaila by birth by known to the family as Nill, is the bedrock of the family but too ill to join him in Wimbledon.
Despite the motivation of wanting to win for the mother, Kyrgios was resigned to the fact Djokovic was a master of the court.
Jabeur and Kyrgios may have been on the losing side in Wimbledon but the world of tennis looks forward to bigger things from the Tunisian star and the Aussie of Greek-Malaysian descent.