Madrid | Jabeur makes more history on Spanish clay

Ons Jabeur became the first African to win a WTA 1000 title when the Tunisian lifted the Mutua Madrid Open trophy on Saturday after beating American Jessica Pegula, 7-5 0-6 6-2, in a highly entertaining final, and is now set to climb to a personal high of No 7 in WTA Rankings.

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 like a pregnant woman! Ons Jabeur

“I cannot describe how I feel right now,” said Jabeur after the 27-year-old served out for the biggest win of her career, and just her second on the WTA Tour.

Jabeur started slowly and had to fight back from 1-4 down to clinch the opening set on the Caja Mágica clay, saving a set point on her own serve, only to be bagelled in the second as Pegula found her range and rhythm, before rebounding in the decider, racing to a 5-2 lead with timely breaks of serve.

Pegula had won 4 matches in a row in straight sets to reach the final and, although Jabeur earned 2 break points in the very first game of the match, the American held on to seize the advantage in the 4th game when she broke, and then consolidated a 4-1 lead.

A handful of loose baseline errors, however, allowed Jabeur to level at 4-4, and the Tunisian showed her fighting flair as she saved a set point at 4-5, before rattling off another break and holding serve to close out the set.

Pegula, though, looked unstoppable in the second, after saving 3 break points in the opening game before breaking Jabeur 3 times, as the Tunisian’s game seemed to fall apart.

The first set had lasted 54 minutes, while the second took just 26.

“She had great momentum in the second set,” said Jabeur. “I cannot say much, but at the same time, I wasn’t being patient enough with her shots.

“I could have stayed like longer with the rallies, or tried to put the ball in, but I know she was playing really great.”

Jessica Pegula took a bagel set but could not maintain her momentum against eventual champion Ons Jabeur at La Caja Magica on Saturday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Jabeur’s distinctive variety, peppered with breath-taking drop-shots, was a perfect foil to Pegula’s persistent consistency from the baseline and mental toughness, and set the tone for the decider.

“We were breaking a lot,” said Pegula. “It felt like whoever could, kind of, hold on to their serve and consolidate the break was going to win the match, especially in that third set.”

Gaining in confidence and momentum, the American 12th seed had started serving at the beginning of all 3 sets, and had faced a break point each time but, in the 3rd set, Jabeur finally converted giving her an early edge as she shook off the bagel.

Despite dropping serve right back, Jabeur broke Pegula again in the 3rd game for a 2-1 lead.

The match reached fever pitch with intense all-court rallies dominating as Jabeur scrapped her way to a 5-2 lead, and she needed just the one match point to get it done, falling to her knees after completing the biggest win of her career, the first Arab woman to win a WTA 1000 title.

Jabeur ended the match with a total of 29 winners, more than doubling Pegula’s haul of 14, although she did shade the American in unforced errors.

“[Pegula] was really good, putting a lot of pressure, playing kind of the game that I don’t like,” Jabeur said. “As soon as I was 30-0 down on my serve, I was like, ‘Of course you want to make it tougher. Of course you want to suffer here. You don’t want to just finish an easy game’.

“When I had the match point, I was like, I had to win it from the beginning, otherwise it’s going to be very tough for me. But I’m very happy and trying to realise that I won today, really.”

Madrid champion Ons Jabeur celebrates with the trophy alongside runner-up Jessica Pegula

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Jabeur had been 1-4 in WTA Tour finals prior to overcoming Pegula for the 3rd time in a row and, in the semi-final, she had defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova to become the first Arab and first African player to reach a final at this level of the WTA Tour.

It is Jabeur’s 2nd career title after 2021 Birmingham, and improves her record in finals to 2-4, after having lost in the Charleston final last month to Belinda Bencic, who she beat earlier in the week.

“I’m so happy that I didn’t wait long [for the title], because I was really disappointed after Charleston and Stuttgart,” Jabeur said. “I was really close, and I know I was playing really good there.

“But I have been doing a lot of hard work to see that it’s paying off. I cannot describe how I feel right now.”

Pegula was also seeking her 2nd career title, and her first on clay, in her first final since 2020 Auckland.

“I thought it was really high level,” said Pegula. “I thought we had some really great points. I’m happy.

“I wish I could have closed off the first set, not just on the set point but, I mean, like being up 4-1, I wish I could have maybe been more aggressive and, kind of, taken the lead there, but I was happy with how I bounced back in the second, and thought I played really well.”

Over the last two-and-a-half years, Jabeur and Pegula have both made impressive leaps forward.

As recently as the start of 2020, Pegula was ranked 76, Jabeur 77, and following this match, each will attain a career-high ranking, Jabeur matching the No 7 spot she held last November, and Pegula at 11.

“I honestly still can’t believe it,” said Jabeur, as she smiled through her post-match press conference. “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 like a pregnant woman!”

Giuliana Olmos (L) & Gabriela Dabrowski the Women's Doubles Mutua Madrid Open title on Saturday with a match tiebreak win over Demi Schuurs & Desirae Krawczyk in the final

© Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Earlier, Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski & Giuliana Olmos from Mexico captured Mutua Madrid Open doubles title when the No 2 seeds defeated 3rd-seeded Dutchwoman Demi Schuurs & Desirae Krawcyk of the USA, 7-6(1) 5-7 [10-7].

“I’m just really happy to win another title,” Olmos said, after their victory. “We’ve both put in a lot of work and we’ve both come pretty far from the beginning of the season, so I think for us it’s really motivating to continue in the direction that we’re going, and to keep putting in the work.”

Dabrowski & Olmos needed 2 hours and 4 minutes to claim the title, handing the American-Dutch pair their first loss in a month.

Krawczyk & Schuurs, a new team this season, were riding an 8-match winning streak coming into the final, having won their first title together on the indoor clay of Stuttgart two weeks ago.

The win was Dabrowski’s first in 3 appearances in the Madrid final after reaching the championship match in 2021 with Schuurs and in 2019 with Yifan Xu.

“It’s been amazing to be back and enjoy Madrid,” Dabrowski said. “I love this city a lot and this is actually my third final in a row here, so I guess third time is the charm.

“We had a bit of a slow start this season, but we stuck it out, we worked together and we played a great tournament.”

Dabrowski & Olmos reached their first final Saturday in 9 tournaments playing together, their previous best result was in 2021 in Miami, where they lost in the semi-finals.

They had a tough time in Madrid, overcoming a one-set deficit in 2 of their 3 matches this week, but they reversed that trend in Saturday’s final with a stunning first set win in which 6 breaks, 3 on each side, were recorded.

Energised by having the lead, Dabrowski & Olmos picked up the pace, winning back-to-back games for the first time in the match to take control of the second set at 2-0.

Krawcyk & Schuurs mounted a comeback, breaking in the 8th game to level the match at 4-4.

They closed the set at 7-5 to extend the match before a resilient Dabrowski & Olmos won their 3rd straight match tiebreak for the victory.

The breaker settled affairs, where an angled forehand return winner by Olmos gave her squad a critical mini-break for 7-6, while a winning volley by Olmos gave her team triple championship point at 9-6, and they converted the second of those after an errant Krawczyk backhand.

Dabrowski & Olmos won 63 percent of points returning second serves in the match, while Krawczyk & Schuurs won just 47 percent of points on their second-service returns.

“In those pressure moments, in the tiebreak in the first set, in the super-tiebreak at the end, I felt more comfortable because we knew that we weren’t having big highs and big lows,” Dabrowski said afterward.

“I felt like we were always bringing something good, and that would put a lot of pressure on our opponents to come up with something better and better. In the end, that worked in our favour.”

Dabrowski now has 3 WTA 1000 doubles titles, including Montreal last year and Miami in 2017.



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