Ons Jabeur In Ostrava: ‘No Fear, I’m Just Going To Go For It’

WASHINGTON, October 22, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Ons Jabeur and Jelena Ostapenko met for the first time in a WTA event Thursday afternoon – and it’s one both will not soon forget.

Although the unseeded Jabeur won the second-round match of the WTA Premier J&T Banka Ostrava Open in Ostrava, Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-4, the score line doesn’t reflect the entire story.

The 32nd-ranked Tunisia battled like there was no tomorrow. That’s because it’s her 11th and last tournament of the pandemic-interrupted season. An intriguing pattern developed over the course of the match. Each time Jabeur broke the 44th-ranked former Roland Garros champion, Ostapenko seemed to come roaring back with a break of her own. Then, it was Jabeur’s turn to break, again. Back and forth these two Sisyphuses went. There was a total of 12 service breaks between the two competitors. Jabeur won seven of 11 break-point opportunities, while Ostapenko converted five of seven.

After Jabeur won the opening set on – what else? – a service break, the wild card Ostapenko came back strong in the second set and held a 4-3 advantage. Guess what, though? The Latvian promptly lost her serve. With her latest break point won, Jabeur became more determined as the momentum swung (again) in her favor. Could she close out the match?

Well, after holding for a 5-4 lead, Jabeur raced to a 0-40 advantage in the next game on Ostapenko’s serve. She needed just one more point to win and to reach her fifth quarterfinal of the year. Instead, one by one, the Latvian saved three match points to gain deuce. The frustration on Jabeur’s face grew with each missed opportunity. However, on her fourth match-point, she ripped a backhand winner from deep near the baseline corner down the line for her 27th winner of the match – one that Ostapenko was unable to get a racquet on. After one hour and 24 minutes and 131 points, the match finally had ended. Jabeur outpointed Ostapenko 74-57. She finished with 27 winners to 23 unforced errors, while Ostapenko ended with just eight winners and committed 28 unforced errors.

Here’s how Jabeur described the agony and ecstasy of the final game when Tennis TourTalk asked her during a post-match 1-on-1 videoconference: “When I won my game at 5-4, I said, ‘This is my chance; I have to win.’ With match points, sometimes you get tight. I cannot put the ball in – I made some mistakes, obviously – but at the end, I thought ‘should I go across or down the line?’ Finally, I decided to go down the line because [Jelena] was waiting for the ball cross court. It was a big relief at the end. I don’t think she was expecting it there.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked the 26-year-old Jabeur what she learned from a 23rd victory in 33 matches this season, in which she had to really fight to earn it, she said: “To be able to keep myself calm in the match – especially knowing that I had so many opportunities in the first set – was something I’m proud of today.

“Honestly, today I am very proud with the way I played. To be honest, I thought I was serving good, but she was returning really well. Even if I hit the first serve good, she always returns well. She never gave me many chances. …

“I’m trying for every point which is not easy at the end of the season. I’m always trying to find my motivation. I think I’m doing a great job. I’m still wanting to win more matches. Hopefully, I can play well my next match.” 

Jabeur said while Ostrava would be her last tournament of the season, she has no regrets. “I’m pretty tired. I’ve played a lot of tournaments and the Covid has been stressful. I think this is enough,” she said. “I’m going to prepare for the new season.” 

After a brief break to unwind and relax, Jabeur plans to spend her off-season at home in Tunisia to prepare for going to Australia to start the 2021 season. Her goal remains to reach the Top 20, something she thinks she could have achieved this year had it not been for the WTA’s five-month hiatus caused by coronavirus pandemic.

“[The Top 20] is going to continue to be my goal,” she said. “I’m pretty happy with how the season went – even with the Covid. For now, I want to focus on this tournament and finish a great season.”

Jabeur has at least one more match, a quarterfinal showdown with unseeded Maria Sakkari of Greece, who on Wednesday ousted No. 1 seed Elina Svitolina in straight sets. Reaching the quarterfinals has become a familiar plateau this season for Jabeur. First at the Australian Open, then Doha, and after the relaunch of the tour, in Lexington, at the Western & Southern Open in New York and now Ostrava.

“I’m going to focus more on myself. I want to keep the fighting spirit,” Jabeur said. “I really enjoyed the way I played today. No fear, I’m just going to go for it.”

Sabalenka rallies to beat Gauff

No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka rallied from a set down to pull out a 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 (2) second-round win over No. 55 Coco Gauff to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round against 73rd-ranked qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, who took out No. 8 seed Anett Kontaveit in straight sets on Wednesday.

Down a double break, 2-5, in the final set, the World No. 12 Sabalenka broke Gauff twice and went ahead 6-5. The 16-year-old American teenager held that sent the match to a decisive tiebreak. However, Sabalenka jumped ahead 4-0 and broke Gauff a total of four times. She won on her second match-point opportunity. The Belarus native, who thrives on taking risks with her explosive forehand returns, finished with 30 winners but hit an unusually high 44 unforced errors.

“After 2-5, I didn’t care at all about the result,” Sabalenka told Tennis TourTalk during her post-match videoconference. “I kept telling myself, ‘focus on this point, focus on this point,’ until the end of the match. It helped me to stay in the moment and play my best and to fight. It was a crazy match. I’m so lucky I could get this win.”

When she was asked what she learned about herself after an unpredictable win against a quality opponent like Gauff, whom she lost to at Lexington, Ky. in August, Sabalenka smiled at the question and replied, “I keep learning the same lesson of how to work with my emotions (laughing). When I shut it down, I start to play really well. When I focus on every point then I’m in the game. When I overthinking about the result or what is going to happen – on or off the court – then I’m in trouble. Finally, after a few years, I’m learning how to work with my emotions.”

It wasn’t easy for Gauff to face the media after a tough loss – especially since it was her fourth three-set loss since the tour restart in August. Plus, it was likely her final match of 2020. However, Gauff sat for nearly 10 minutes and answered every question that was put forth. She was asked by Tennis TourTalk to describe how difficult it was to serve for the match twice, at 5-2 and again at 5-4 in the third set, only to lose the match in a decisive tie-break. “I’m definitely a little disappointed with today’s outcome. I just have to go back and get better. I had a lot of chances and she played well and didn’t give up. 

“I guess I can be proud because I competed my best today.”

Mertens garners WTA-leading 30th win

No. 7 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium won her WTA-leading 30th match of the season and reached the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 28 Karolina Muchova from the Czech Republic, in one hour and 23 minutes. It was the first career meeting between the 21st-ranked Mertens and Muchova.

Mertens won 82 percent (27 of 33) of her first-serve points and was not broken during the match, saving all five of the break points she faced. She outpointed Muchova 61-49 to advance against No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka.

“Overall, I had a steady performance,” said Mertens, who also reached the doubles semifinals with partner Aryna Sabalenka. Seeded No. 1 Mertens and Sabalenka beat Jelena Ostapenko and Vera Zvonareva, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 10-8.

“I was mentally ready for a battle [with Karolina]. In doubles, we didn’t give up. It clicks with Aryna. We’ve had really good results in the past.” 

In 2019, Mertens and Sabalenka won the Indian Wells-Miami “Sunshine Double” and also captured the US Open title – all hardcourt titles.

We like to enjoy the game. I’m looking forward to winning another one,” Mertens said.

Kudermetova upsets No. 2 seed Pliskova

Unheralded 47th-ranked Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who earned a main-draw berth through winning two qualifying matches, rallied from a set down to pull off a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 upset of No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova during Thursday’s evening session inside Ostravar Arena. It was Kudermetova’s fourth win in Ostrava in the past week, which has advanced her into her second quarterfinal of the season and first since Hobart last January.

The 23-year-old Moscow resident sealed the one hour and 56-minute win with back-to-back service aces, her ninth and tenth of the match. It was the fifth time this year she’s come back to win after losing the first set. She won 78 percent of her first-serve points – her season average is 65 percent – and outpointed Pliskova 93-78.

Kudermetova told Tennis TourTalk it was her biggest win of the year. “It was a good match today,” she said. “I tried to hit every ball, I had a good serve, I tried to be calm after losing the first set.

“I was more focused than her. I may have rushed too much in the first set, but after that, I tried to think what I needed to do. I tried to focus on every play. I think it was the key to this match.”

Pliskova, the World No. 6 from the Czech Republic, finished with nine aces but saw her service broken five times. Going back to last month’s Rome final, she lost three of her last four matches. During her post-match videoconference, Pliskova confirmed that her 2020 season is ended. She finished with a 17-8 win-loss record.

Brady reaches fifth quarterfinal of 2020

No. 26 Jennifer Brady of the United States overcame a 2-5 deficit in which she saved two set points and broke Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in three consecutive service games to pull out the opening set. Then, she added two more service breaks in the decider and won 7-5, 6-2 in one hour and 46 minutes to advance to the quarterfinal round against No. 47 Veronika Kudermetova. Brady, who is into her third quarterfinal since the WTA’s August restart – and fifth overall this year – is 10-5 against Top 50 players in the past year.

“I think I was able to find my range a little bit after being down 5-2,” Brady said. “I was going for my shots more and hitting out of the middle. I think as the match went on, I got stronger and stared to break her down physically. I focused on playing each and every single point.

“Once I got the first set, I was able to build a lot of confidence [the rest of the match].”

Although Brady hit four aces and didn’t commit any double faults, it was her success to win points on her second serve that proved to be a difference between winning and losing. She won 67 percent (22 of 33) of her second-set points and saved three of five break points she faced from the 75th-ranked Kasatkina. Brady outpointed Kasatkina 84-64.

The victory for Brady was her eighth in her last 10 hard-court matches.