MADRID: Ons Jabeur sealed her first WTA 1000 title after defeating American Jessica Pegula 7-5, 0-6, 6-2 in an entertaining Madrid Open final on Saturday.
Jabeur had been in scintillating form at the claycourt tournament and the 27-year-old produced a determined display against Pegula to end her journey in the Spanish capital on the perfect note.
The Tunisian trailblazer picked up her second WTA trophy and is set to return to her career-high ranking of number seven in the world on Monday.
Jabeur, who is the first Arab player — man or woman — to crack the top 10, owns a tour-leading 12 victories on clay so far this season and picked up a 20th win overall in 2022.
“I honestly still can’t believe it. I went through a roller coaster of emotions during the past few days, just after the semi-final. I was really stressed trying to breathe,” said Jabeur, who had won just one of her previous five WTA finals.
“I really didn’t want to get disappointed again. I thought my heart was going out of my chest today. I’m very happy and trying to realise that I won today really.”
Jabeur had a slow start, being down 1-4 in the opener, but took advantage of a handful of loose baseline errors from Pegula to make it 4-4. She showed flair and fighting spirit as she saved a set point at 4-5 before closing out the set on her serve.
The Tunisian, however, lost her grip in the second set where she was handed a bagel by Pegula, who recovered remarkably and looked unstoppable.
The decider saw Jabeur at her aggressive best — fighting through a long deuce game and breaking on her first chance to earn a double-break lead and chance to serve out the win.
Jabeur fell to her knees after completing the biggest win of her career.
In the men’s event, Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz came from behind to beat world number one Novak Djokovic 6-7 (5) 7-5 7-6 (5) to set up a final date with Alexander Zverev after the German defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
Djokovic, who has yet to win a title this season, rallied from a break down to take the opening set in a tie-breaker and the 34-year-old looked dangerous on his serve as he won 21 straight points on it in the opener.
But Alcaraz, who turned 19 this week, showed resilience in the second set as he clawed his way back into the contest, saving a break point and holding for 6-5 before breaking Djokovic to force a decider.
The crowd in the Spanish capital got to their feet when Alcaraz completed his comeback, edging out Djokovic in the deciding tiebreak to become the first player to beat Rafa Nadal and Djokovic at the same clay court event.
“This gives me a lot of confidence to play the final tomorrow,” said Alcaraz after the match which lasted three hours and 35 minutes.
“I know that I played a really good game, and for the rest of the season I think I am able to play against the best players in the world and beat them as well, so it gives me a lot of confidence.”
In the other semi-final, Zverev’s dominant serving proved too much for Tsitsipas to handle and he crushed a backhand winner on match point to seal his first career win over Tsitsipas on a clay court.
Zverev said he was as impressed as anyone with Alcaraz’s ascent to world number nine.
“I said last year in Acapulco that by Acapulco 2023, he’d be in the top 10,” Zverev said.
“He beat me by a year! He’s an incredible player ... there’s no limit for him.”
Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2022