Ons Jabeur, who stepped in at the last minute to replace Emma Raducanu after the Briton tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week, came from a set down to beat Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic, 3-6 6-4 [10-6] at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
I want to keep breaking records, continuing my journey, and proving I’m deserving of a place in the top 10. I’m surprised at the reaction I’ve been receiving, hopefully what I’m doing can do something to help bring more Arab players into the game. Ons Jabeur
The annual event, which features 8 of the world’s leading players, 6 men and 2 women, has consistently brought world-class entertainment to the UAE since 2009 at the International Tennis Centre, Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
Jabeur added more history by becoming the first Arab to play at, and win, the women’s portion of the show, the headline women’s match.
The Tunisian is the leading star of Arab tennis, having become the first Arab woman to reach the quarter-finals at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon last year, as well as the first to win a WTA Tour title at Birmingham.
The World No 10, who reached a career-high No 7 this year, is the highest-ranked Arab player, female or male, in tennis history.
On Thursday, however, Bencic looked in to hold the edge touch early in the match, as both players held serve up until the 8th game when the Swiss earned the first break to take a 5-3 lead.
Jabeur broke straight back for 4-5, as Bencic served for the first set, only for the Swiss to break for a second time to close it out, 6-4.
The Tunisian showed great heart to get herself back into contention, targeting the Bencic backhand and racing into a 5-0 lead in the second set.
While the Olympic champion fought back to claim the next 3 games, Jabeur refused to be denied, and immediately broke her opponent’s serve to level the match at set all to take matters into a deciding match tiebreak.
Jabeur raced out to a 4-0 lead in the breaker, and earned her first match point at 9-5, and although Bencic saved 3 match points to claw her way back to 8-9, the Tunisian claimed the win on her 4th chance when the Swiss struck her backhand long.
The two players shared a friendly shake of hands and an embrace at the net.
“Belinda surprised me with some drop shots, she was stealing my stealing my thunder a little bit,” Jabeur said. “The crowd is amazing and the energy is perfect.
“It feels amazing. Belinda plays tough and surprised me with her drop shots, so it was great to get through it.
“It was always a dream to play her in an Arab country to represent Tunisia and the Arab world. A real privilege. And to pick up the victory is great.
“I want to keep breaking records, continuing my journey, and proving I’m deserving of a place in the top 10,”added the 27-year-old African No 1.
“I’m surprised at the reaction I’ve been receiving, hopefully what I’m doing can do something to help bring more Arab players into the game.”