Ons Jabeur kept her hopes alive in the Nancy Richey Group at the WTA Finals in Forth Worth, Texas, where she came from a set down to beat Jessica Pegula on Wednesday, while Maria Sakkari landed her place in the semi-final with a straight sets win over Aryna Sabalenka.
It's been a long time since I had straight-set wins against these players. That's something new again for me. But at the same time, I'm being more clinical, and I can be even more.' Maria Sakkari
“I lost my first match, and now I’m back in the game,” Jabeur said. “One more match left.
“It’s tricky and everyone’s trying to give 100 percent. You don’t have many opportunities, so you really have to focus.
“Honestly, it [losing opener] was very tough. Because I’m used to being depressed for the next two days when I lose. I didn’t have much time. It was very hard to sleep the first day to be honest with you.”
Tunisia’s World No 2 had a nightmare first set after holding serve in the opening game, and then was broken by Pegula 3 times to lose the next 6 games.
Jabeur responded with an early break for a 2-1 lead in the second, before dropping her serve to love, but she managed to right the ship, breaking twice in a row to force a decider, which was tightly contested.
Pegula failed to convert 5 early break points and the 2nd seed finally gained the upper hand with a break for 5-3 before polishing off the win after an hour and 41 minutes.
“After the first set, she was playing really well, and really fast,” Jabeur said. “The balls were tough, very low. I know she likes to play the balls like that. And I just had to find that click to just change up the rhythm and impose my game.”
The win keeps her in contention for a spot in the Last 8, leaving Pegula to rue her missed chances but she, too, has not yet been eliminated, mathematically, although it would take an unlikely combination of results to see her reach the semi-finals.
“I’m still in?” a surprised Pegula asked at her post-match press conference. “That’s good to know. I’m still alive… somehow.”
Meanwhile, Sakkari’s passage is assured already, with her 6-2 6-4 win over Sabalenka.
The Greek World No 5 was the last player to secure her place in this year’s WTA Finals, but became the first player to reach the semi-final as she brushed aside the Belarusian in one hour and 37 minutes.
“It’s been a long time since I had straight-set wins against these players,” said Sakkari, who is in the WTA Finals semi-finals for the second consecutive year. “That’s something new again for me. But at the same time, I’m being more clinical, and I can be even more.”
Playing aggressively, Sakkari broke twice in the opener, and then raced out to a 3-0 lead in the second with another two breaks, but Sabalenka rallied and drew level at 3-3, only for the Greek to break again in game 9.
“If you’re not aggressive on this court, then it’s just game over,” Sakkari said. “If I was passive, especially against [Sabalenka], the biggest hitter on the tour, then it’s just bye-bye.
“I just went for it. If I’m not going to go for it here, when am I going to do it?”
Sakkari, who will take on Jabeur in her final match in the Nancy Richey Group, while Sabalenka will square off against Pegula on Friday, will qualify for the top spot in the group if she wins.
“It feels great, just giving myself the chance to play my next match a little bit more relaxed, and enjoy another battle,” Sakkari said after her win. “Obviously I want to win – I still want to go undefeated.
“It’s gonna be a very tough match, but it’s nice to feel like my hard work is paying off finally.
Sabalenka will pip Jabeur for a semi-final berth if she beats Pegula in her final group match.
The Tracy Austin Group featuring Iga Swiatek, Caroline Garcia, Coco Gauff1 and Daria Kasatkina returns to action on Thursday.
Pegula, the World No 3 and top-ranked American, is also playing in the doubles with compatriot Coco Gauff and, in the final match of Day 3, the pair were beaten by fellow American Desirae Krawczyk & Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands, 3-6 6-0 [10-5].
Defending doubles champions Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova beat China’s Xu Yifa & Yang Zhaoxuan, 6-3 6-3, putting the Czech duo in the semi-finals.
They are guaranteed to top the Rosie Casals Group after two wins without losing a set, while the 8th seeds, Krawczyk & Schuurs, will face China’s Xu & Yang for the second qualifying spot.
Krawczyk & Schuurs rallied from a set down to defeat the No 3 seeds Gauff & Pegula, who are now out of contention after two defeats.
Krejcikova & Siniakova will face Gauff & Pegula to close out the group stage on Friday, while Krawczyk & Schuurs will play Xu & Yang, with the winner joining the Czechs in the semi-finals.