Garbiñe Muguruza saw off qualifier Mai Hontoma to reach the semi-finals of the Chicago Fall Classic on Friday, where she will meet Marketa Vondrousova, while Ons Jabeur upset top seed Elina Svitolina to take on Elena Rybakina in the last 4.
I'm glad that I'm learning from my losses against her or against any other player,.The most important thing is the hard work through the years. I'm a different player right now. I have played a lot of matches, I have much more experience, and to manage the stress, to manage the fact that I had opportunities, it's amazing to see that it's paying off. Ons Jabeur
The Spanish No 2 seed boosted her hopes of qualifying for the WTA Finals with an emphatic 6-3 6-2 win over the 22-year old Japanese in an hour 40 minutes, halting Hontama’s winning streak and putting Muguruza into her 4th semi-final of the season.
“It was a tough match because I didn’t know much about her,” Muguruza told the press, after her win. “I think she has a lot of confidence right now, it was a tricky match, but I’m very happy.
“I think that the first set was key, because it was very tough.
“She came back from 4-0 down, and managed to make the end of the first set very tight.
“Then in the second set, I managed to escape and get an early break, so very happy to be able to close the match in two sets.”
Hontama, ranked 200 in the world, had a break-through run to the quarter-finals this week in her first WTA main-draw appearance, and defeated Caroline Garcia and Shelby Rogers on her way to the quarters.
Muguruza, the World No 9, had all the answers against her, though, breaking Hontama’s serve 7 times by collecting 75 percent of the qualifier’s second deliveries, and striking 13 winners to 5 from the Japanese.
The Spaniard led 4-1 in the first set before Hontama earned her first break of the day with a backhand winner down the line.
Muguruza gritted out a tough hold for 5-3 before earning her 3rd service break of the opener to close out the set a game later.
After 4 consecutive service breaks opened the second, Muguruza took command by forcing an error with her forehand to move ahead 4-2 on her 3rd break point of that game and, although Hontama again dragged her into two more lengthy games, the Spaniard prevailed but needed 5 match points before she closed it out with a big backhand.
“She definitely pushed me to bring my A-game, to concentrate, to be tough out there,” Muguruza said. “I’m really surprised with her game.”
The former World No 1 will now take on Olympic silver medalist Vondrousova, who outlasted 10th-seeded Danielle Collins of the United States in the first quarter-final of the day, 6-7(4) 6-0 7-6(3) and moved into her 4th semi-final of the season.
“We were both fighting very much from the beginning,” said Vondrousova. “I felt like the first set was 50/50, and then I started serving really well, and I think she was a bit down, but I knew she was coming back for the third set.
“And then it was just pure fight, so I’m happy to be through.”
The first meeting between the two proved to be a topsy-turvy clash, with Vondrousova, the World No 41, winning in a tense 2 hours and 32 minutes, after 28th-ranked Collins had served for the match at 6-5 in the final set.
While Collins was the aggressor more often than not, the Czech played the cleaner match, with 26 winners to just 17 unforced errors and the American’s 33 winners slightly outpaced her 36 unforced errors.
Vondrousova also won 85 percent of her first-service points to help her eke out the win.
The first game set the tone, in which Collins hit 3 double-faults and had to stave off 6 break points, but still managed to hold serve.
All-court play by both propelled them into a first-set tiebreak, where Collins slammed down an ace to take an initial 4-1 lead.
A missed return by Vondrousova gave Collins 3 set points at 6-3, and the American used blistering backhands to snag the set on the second.
That gruelling effort took its toll on Collins, though, and Vondrousova took full advantage, firing 8 winners to just a single unforced error as she romped to the bagel in 23 minutes and levelled the match.
It was toe-to-toe in the decider, with Collins going up a break at both 4-3 and 6-5, and having the chance to serve for the match, but Vondrousova drew errors from the American to break quickly, lining up another tiebreak.
A Czech winner off of a Collins drop-shot gave Vondrousova an early mini-break for a 2-1 lead, and she did not yield on her serve for the rest of the breaker, taking it home for the victory.
Later in the day, Jabeur broke her run of losses against Svitolina to boost her hopes of making the season-ending finale in Guadalajara, winning her 43rd match of the year with a fine 6-4 6-2 victory over the top seed.
The Tunisian is now tied with 2nd-ranked Aryna Sabalenka for the most matches won on the WTA Tour this season.
“Intense match,” Jabeur said during her post-match press conference. “I’ve known Elina since we were juniors, and also I’ve never won against her on the pro tour, so it was a very important match for me, since I’ve had my chances before.
“I tried to play my game, slice, drop-shot, everything that I could do, but it’s never easy playing her. But I’m glad that I got the win in two sets.”
Svitolina, the World No 6, had never faced the new, improved Jabeur, who came into the tournament ranked a career-best 16th.
Although she fell behind 4-1 in the first set, Jabeur rallied herself to post a straight-sets victory.
“I’m glad that I’m learning from my losses against her or against any other player,” Jabeur said later. “The most important thing is the hard work through the years.
“I’m a different player right now. I have played a lot of matches, I have much more experience, and to manage the stress, to manage the fact that I had opportunities, it’s amazing to see that it’s paying off.”
Svitolina came into the clash having won her last 7 matches in the Windy City, having claimed her first title of 2021 at the Chicago Women’s Open just prior to the US Open.
Jabeur, however, had collected 4 wins over Top 10 players this year, and she continued her surge through her career-best season by taking home a 5th scalp on Friday, striking 28 winners to Svitolina’s 9 in the process, and converting 4 of her 13 break opportunities, while saving 11 of the 12 break points she faced.
After saving 2 break points in the opening game of the match, Svitolina seemed in control as she swept to a commanding 4-1 lead, but Jabeur was able to prevent going down 1-5 by putting away a forehand winner while facing break point, and the set turned from there.
She pulled back on serve at 4-3, then fended off 2 more break points in the next game to level at 4-4, and prevailed in the following tense game, slamming a return winner to convert on her 3rd chance to lead 5-4.
Jabeur had little difficulty serving out the set, and aggressive play gave her a daunting 4-0, double-break lead in the second, before Svitolina gritted out a very tough hold for 4-1, ending Jabeur’s 10-game winning streak.
The Tunisian had to stare down 2 break points in the next game, but pulled through and eased to victory from there.
Jabeur became the first Arab tournament winner in WTA history at Birmingham in June, and beyond lifting the trophy in Chicago, her goal is to make next month’s WTA Finals in Mexico.
“Knowing I can be the first Arab to qualify, it’s really unbelievable, you know, and it’s more stress on me,” she added.
The 6th-seeded Jabeur will play 5th-seeded Rybakina in the semi-finals, who led Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic 6-4, 3-1 when the Swiss retired because of a right knee injury.
In a rematch of the Olympics semi-finals, it was unfortunate end for the No 3 seed.
“The match we played today, it was not the way I wanted to finish, of course,” Rybakina told the press. “I just want to wish Belinda a speedy recovery.”
The pair had played an intense Olympics semi-final in their only prior meeting, with Bencic triumphing in 3 tough sets en route to winning the gold medal, while Rybakina then fell to Svitolina in the bronze-medal match, also in 3 sets, finishing Tokyo 2020 in 4th place.
Rybakina was potentially on her way to avenging that loss, turning the opening set around in her favour.
The Kazakh was behind an early break, but from 2-4 down, she reeled off 4 games in a row to snatch the first set.
She took the momentum into the second, picking up an early 3-1 lead, but as Bencic was fighting to get the break back, the Swiss injured her right knee and although she was able to walk off the court, she could not continue the match.