There were slim on-court pickings in the Chicago Fall Classic semi-finals on Saturday as Garbiñe Muguruza advanced to the final on a walkover, and Ons Jabeur’s opponent retired in the second set.
I'm very excited that they're doing the Finals in Mexico, and they're giving an opportunity to Latin America to host such a big event. I'm all in for it. I hope that develops more interest in tennis over there. Garbiñe Muguruza
Muguruza was the first of the two to book her spot in the final, moving past Czech Marketa Vondrousova after the 2019 Roland Garros finalist and Tokyo 2020 Silver Medallist had to withdraw due to a gastrointestinal illness.
“Unfortunately I have to pull out of my match today but am happy with the tennis I’ve produced here in Chicago,” Vondrousova said in a statement. “Thank you to the tournament staff here for hosting us and the fans for all your support.”
It was the second walkover in a week for the Spanish No 2 seed, who is now through to the 16th WTA final of her career, having won 8 of them, and she is now looking for a second WTA title this year, having won a WTA 1000 in Dubai, which was also on hard-courts, in March.
Later, Jabeur, the No 6 seed from Tunisia, was leading 6-4, 3-2 when Kazakstan’s Elena Rybakina withdrew, also suffering from gastroenteritis.
Despite advancing via retirement, the victory counts as Jabeur’s 44th match-win of the season, which means she is the new WTA leader in 2021 wins, moving ahead of World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who has won 43 matches this year.
Jabeur is now one win away from her 2nd title of the season and of her career, having won on the grass courts of Birmingham in the summer to become the first Arab woman to claim a WTA singles title.
The Tunisian’s remarkable season continues as she currently sits at a career-high ranking of World No 16, and is in 9th place in the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals, potentially making a push to qualify for the year-end championships in Guadalajara.
Jabeur took a quick lead, using well-struck, aggressive shots to break Rybakina to love for 2-1 and then went up a double-break after the 5th seed coughed up 2 consecutive double-faults to hand a 4-1 lead to Jabeur.
Rybakina clawed back one of the breaks at 4-2, but Jabeur’s delivery was not challenged again in the set, as she swept through her remaining service games to claim the one-set lead.
The Kazakh only landed 39 percent of her first-serves into play in the set, while Jabeur converted both of the break points she created.
The Tunisian was tested at 2-1 in the second, but Rybakina squandered 2 break points in that game with missed returns, and Jabeur held on and subsequently broke to love to lead 3-2, finishing off that game with a deft dropshot-to-lob winner combo.
After that, Rybakina called the trainer, and deemed herself unable to continue.
“Elena is such an amazing player—I hope she will be ready for Indian Wells, which is such an important tournament,” Jabeur said afterwards. “It’s never easy to finish a match like that.”
Until Rybakina had to retire, Jabeur was on fire, hitting 14 winners to 11 unforced errors and converting all 3 break points she held against one of the biggest servers on the tour.
“It means a lot—honestly, Tunisians are everywhere, and I love that,” she said. “Every place is amazing, and being here in Chicago, seeing all the Tunisians, it feels like home.”
Muguruza and Jabeur are tied 1-1 in their head-to-head, with the Spaniard winning in the second round of Hobart in 2020, 3-6 6-3 7-6(4), and Jabeur winning in the third round of Wimbledon this year, 5-7 6-3 6-2.
In that Hobart meeting, Muguruza fought off a match point serving to stay in the match at 5-6 in the third set.
“It’s a final so anything is possible,” Jabeur said. “We are both racing for Guadalajara, so it’s an important match, and she’s such an amazing player—I have a lot of respect for her.
“The last time we played at Wimbledon was a very tough match.
“The main goal is to qualify for Guadalajara.
“It’s a dream coming true. It’s something big. Knowing that I can be the first Arab to qualify, it’s unbelievable. It’s more stress on me but I really made my peace with it. I’m going to do my best.
“If I qualify, great. If I don’t, maybe it’s a great message for me to rest my body and be ready for the next season.”
There has been some criticism that the WTA is hosting its season-ending finale at altitude in Guadalajara, especially from Ash Barty’s coach Craig Tyzzer, but Muguruza is happy with the decision.
“I’m very excited that they’re doing the Finals in Mexico, and they’re giving an opportunity to Latin America to host such a big event,” the former World No 1 said.
“I’m all in for it. I hope that develops more interest in tennis over there”.
For Muguruza, if she were to qualify for the WTA Finals, it would be her first appearance at the year-end tournament since 2017.