Interview with Issam Jellali, Coach to Ons Jabeur

BY PIERRE LAMARCHE

“The key is the communication . Issam always tries to understand me and listen to me as a player to help me to improve. He helped me developed my game and not change it.” Ons Jabeur, first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament.

PL: Issam, how long have you been working with Ons, where and how did the relationship start?

Coach Issam Jellali

IJ: I really started from scratch with Ons . Starting 4 years ago, it was like baby steps, she had her coaches, I had my job so I would help her occasionally when I was in Tunisia, or she was in Dubai (where I was based at the time). When we started training consistently, Covid-19 started so it was beneficial to stop and focus on game and fitness deeply.

PL: Ons has had great success since the beginning of the year, to what do you attribute these improved performances?

IJ: Yes, this is true she has had the best year of her career so far with the most WTA  wins (29) and reaching her best career ranking 24 . Everybody knows that Ons is one of the most talented players on the tour so it was not enough to make it with the elite players. She needed someone to work on her legs and I believe her husband Karim is doing a great job, who of course understands her strength and building patterns. We had long-term and short-term goals, which we are reaching faster than expected.

PL: How has it been on the road for you away from your family?

IJ: It’s never easy to be away from your wife and daughters for many weeks in a row, it’s not an easy decision but it’s one you sometimes need to take in order to provide for your family.

PL: What are your memories of the two years you spent in Canada?

Ons Jabeur pictured above with coach Issam Jellali

IJ: I only have good memories from the time I was in Canada and being coached by you and learning from you on and off the court. This had a huge impact on my coaching career. When I first came to Canada they didn’t know my name so everyone was calling me Pierre’s son. It was a honor for me. Pierre is always in my heart.

PL: Your brother Aref, who lives in Canada and is a great coach, was instrumental in Bianca Andrescu’s development, do you ever think of joining him?

IJ: My brother Aref is my role model, I always look up to him and consult him before I take many decisions.  I owe him so much, so if everything goes as planned the we hope to be reunited again in Canada.

PL: What is the goal for Ons going forward?

IJ: The goal is to keep improving. We try not to focus on the results as long as we see improvement.

For more on Ons Jabeur’s recent career success read “Ons Jabeur, First Arab Woman to Win a WTA Title” featured on CNN.

Interview by Pierre Lamarche, Contributing Editor, ONcourt & Founder, All Canadian Sports Management

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