Ons Jabeur fended off close friend and tennis super-mum Tatjana Maria to reach the first grand slam final of her career, breaking new ground for Africa at Wimbledon.

In a Centre Court thrill ride, Tunisian Jabeur came through 6-2 3-6 6-1, and the 27-year-old will be Africa's first women's singles grand slam finalist in the Open Era.

Second seed Jabeur said ahead of Thursday's match that she and world number 103 Maria are "barbecue buddies". Jabeur is close to Maria and the German's two young daughters, but it had to be all about business in the biggest match of each player's life.

This stage of a major was new territory for both players, with 34-year-old Maria the oldest first-time women's singles grand slam semi-finalist in the Open Era, which began in 1968.

Jabeur broke in Maria's second service game of the opening set and looked comfortable as she swept through that opener. But there was a gear change early in the next set, Jabeur finding it more difficult to handle the slices and unconventional approach of Maria, who broke to lead 3-1 and was beginning to believe.

When Jabeur sent an unusually loose drop shot into the net, the match was level, yet the Tunisian picked up her performance when it mattered, breaking in the second game of the decider and then once more as Maria's challenge faded.

The German had been bidding to become the first unseeded women's singles finalist at Wimbledon since tennis fully opened up to professionals in 54 years ago. Maria upset big-name seeds Jelena Ostapenko and Maria Sakkari in earlier rounds, but her glorious run in London – the first mother-of-two to reach the last four since Margaret Court in 1975 – had reached its end point.

Data slam: Jabeur bids to make history for African women

There has been an African singles grand slam winner, but not yet on the women's side. Johan Kriek triumphed in men's singles at the 1981 Australian Open while representing South Africa. He defended that title a year later, by which stage he had switched nationality to compete for the United States. Opportunity knocks for Jabeur on Saturday.

Jabeur– 39/30
Maria – 17/26

Jabeur– 4/2
Maria – 0/5

Jabeur– 4/11
Maria – 1/2