After rain washed out play on Friday at the Viking Classic Birmingham, No 2 seed Ons Jabeur pulled double duty to reach the singles and doubles finals, winning 3 matches on Saturday, the first against Anastasia Potapova in the quarter-finals and then Heather Watson in the semi-final.
The goal was just to handle as much as I can and resist this aggressive game. I'm happy that I was able to close the match. It was a busy day in a great office! It was a tough two days – waiting yesterday was tough – and I am very happy to be in a grass court final for the first time and in Birmingham as well. Daria Kasatkina
“I tried not to waste my time on court, to keep my energy for a long day,” said the Tunisian, who then finished her day’s work by also reaching the doubles final alongside partner Ellen Perez with her third win, this time over top doubles seeds Elise Mertens & Su-Wei Hsieh.
“I played really well in the morning and, in the second match, I just tried to give it my all and make sure I am ready for the final.”
Against Potapova, Jabeur reeled off 11 out of 12 games from 1-3 down in the first set, smothering the 20-year-old Russian with precise shotmaking, while she dropped just 3 points on serve in the first set against Watson, finishing with 17 winners to 12 unforced errors and firing 6 aces.
Jabeur beat Watson 6-3 6-3 in 72 minutes, just a few hours after dispatching Potapova, 6-4 6-0, in just 56 minutes.
In the final, Jabeur will face another Russian in Daria Kasatkina, the No 4 seed who overcame World No 203 Coco Vandeweghe, the American come-back star, in her semi, 6-2 6-4.
Earlier, Watson had advanced to the semi-finals by upsetting 3rd-seeded Donna Vekic, of Croatia, 6-4 6-2, while Vandeweghe defeated 8th-seeded Czech Marie Bouzkova 6-4 6-4.
Watson became only the third British woman into the last four of the singles in Birmingham since Anne Hobbs in 1984 and Jo Durie in 1992.
“It feels awesome.” Watson said after defeating Vekic, the 2013 finalist. “I think that’s the best tennis I’ve played in a long time so I’m really happy.
“I got a bit nervous at the end, and Donna really made we work for it, but it gives me a lot of confidence that I got over the line there.
“I’ve been serving well for the last week or so, so I’m trying to take as much advantage of that as I can.”
The 29-year-old broke Vekic twice in each set, both times in the Croat’s opening service games, and although the World No 54 restored parity, Watson held on for the first set.
After consolidating another early break in the second, Watson, ranked 70, saved 2 break points before moving ahead 4-1 in the next game to take complete control, and going on to take her 2nd match point on serve.
Her run in Birmingham is a much-needed turn-around in Watson’s fortunes, who came into the week sporting a 4-10 record in 2021, and 6-16 since the tour resumed last August.
The Brit intermittently impressed against Jabeur, particularly in giving the Tunisian a taste of her own medicine with several stellar drop-shots, one of which garnered Watson’s only break of serve at the start of the second set, but she was hindered by 4 double-faults, one in each of her service games in the first set with an occasional sprinkling of several cheap errors in a row.
Watson had served exceptionally well against Vekic, but she struggled on serve against Jabeur, which meant that she was often on the back foot against the talented Tunisian.
“Ons served really well whereas I was struggling to win my service games,” admitted Watson. “That was the biggest difference but there were small margins.
“Overall it’s been a really good week. I’ll take the positives with me to Eastbourne.”
Kasatkina was not quite as efficient as Jabeur in reaching the final, but was still sharp in getting past 2 qualifiers – Tereza Martincova, 6-4 2-6 6-0 in an hour 44 minutes, followed by CoCo Vandeweghe, 6-2 6-4, in an hour 16 minutes.
The Russian’s quarter-final triumph over Martincova was the highest-quality match of the day, particularly during a deciding set in which she out-manoeuvred the rising Czech in a sequence of thrilling extended exchanges.
Her semi-final against Vandeweghe was a markedly different proposition, with the former World No 9 still on the come-back trail after being sidelined due to complex regional pain syndrome in 2019, and then hand surgery after a freak microwave accident in 2020.
Both of Vandeweghe’s career titles have come on grass, in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2014 and 2016, and her power game was clicking as she stormed past Marie Bouzkova, 6-4 6-4, in the last eight.
The result was the American’s first Top 50 win since beating Caroline Garcia in the 2018 Stuttgart semi-finals, and put her into the last 4 of a WTA tournament for the first time since ‘s-Hertogenbosch 2018.
Vandeweghe book-ended her match against Kasatkina with similar form, blitzing winners and racing to the net at every opportunity.
She led 2-1 after a pulsating opening 3 games, while a last-ditch comeback saw her recover that level to win 4 of the last 6 games.
In-between, however, once Kasatkina got used to her opponent’s power and started moving the ball around more effectively, Vandeweghe’s radar went awry and, from 2-1 up, the American lost 9 straight games, including 28 out of 37 points.
Most shots she attempted ended up in the net or outside the lines as Vandeweghe finished with 30 unforced errors to 14 winners, and only landed 50% of her first serves.
Kasatkina nearly paid the price for becoming too passive in the face of Vandeweghe exceptional skills, but she managed to serve out the win at the second time of asking after a final pair of forehand errors came from the World No 203.
“The goal was just to handle as much as I can and resist this aggressive game,” Kasatkina said afterwards. “I’m happy that I was able to close the match. It was a busy day in a great office!
“It was a tough two days – waiting yesterday was tough – and I am very happy to be in a grass court final for the first time and in Birmingham as well.”
In Sunday’s LTA Viking Classic Birmingham final Kasatkina and Jabeur are bidding to lift the famous Maud Watson Trophy for the first time in their careers, hopeful of adding their names to the likes of Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Li Na and Maria Sharapova on the tournament’s prestigious honour roll of champions.
Jabeur has previously been a semi-finalist at Eastbourne and her crafty, creative game adapts well to grass, while Kasatkina already has won 2 titles this year and is recapturing the form which took her inside the World’s Top 10.
The pair have played twice before, with the Russian winning both times, but they have never met on a grass court.
Jabeur, who is used to breaking new ground in tennis for her home country, could become the first Tunisian to win a WTA Tour title and the LTA Viking Classic Birmingham’s first champion from the African continent or the Middle East.
She could also become the first Arab player ever to win a WTA Tour singles title.
By winning, Kasatkina would walk in the footsteps of fellow Russians Sharapova, who won the title in 2004 and 2005, and Vera Zvonereva, who was champion in 2006.
The singles final will also be a rematch of the 2018 Moscow final, which Kasatkina won 2-6 7-6(3) 6-4 after trailing 2-6, 1-4.
“The last time we played a final, it was a big, big drama!” she recalled.
It was also a match of high quality between two of the tour’s most talented improvisers and shotmakers, something that fans can look forward to being enhanced on grass in Sunday’s final, which can be viewed on BBC iPlayer.
Jabeur & Perez will play the all-Czech pairing of Maria Bouzkova & Lucie Hradecka in Sunday’s doubles final, which will follow the 1.30pm singles final.