FORT WORTH, Texas – No. 7 in the world After rallying from a set down to beat second-ranked Ons Jabeur on Monday as round-robin play at the season-ending WTA Finals began, Aryna Sabalenka called it a “miracle.”
At Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, Sabalenka beat the Tunisian 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 despite getting off to a shaky start riddled with errors. The Tunisian was a finalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022.
“It’s the biggest win of the season for me,” Sabalenka said after a disappointing 2022 season.
“She played incredibly, and another miracle occurred for me, and I was able to win this match.” The Belarusian had to dig deep to beat Jabeur for the third time and improve her record to 3-1. At 5-3 in the second-set tiebreaker, Jabeur was only two points away from victory, and she had two opportunities to break for a 5-2 lead in the third set. Jabeur was making her first appearance in the WTA Finals.
But Sabalenka hung in there, breaking Jabeur at love to tie the set at 4-4 and winning after 2 hours and 28 minutes when Jabeur netted a forehand on the first match point. “I didn’t feel welcome on this court at first,” Sabalenka said of her early difficulties.
“I couldn’t figure out what was going on because the ball was bouncing too slowly for me.” Then, in the second set, I calmed down and tried to figure out what I needed to do to win this match.”
Sabalenka, 24, will next face Maria Sakkari of Greece. In the other Nancy Richey Group match, the world No. 5 defeated third-ranked American Jessica Pegula 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4) to improve on a semi-final appearance in the 2021 event.
In a rematch of Pegula’s WTA Guadalajara final, she and Sakkari traded six service breaks in the first set, with Pegula twice recovering a break before Sakkari put it away in the tiebreaker.
Sakkari took the first set and raced to a 3-0 lead in the second before Pegula broke back to cut the deficit to 3-2. Pegula forced the tiebreaker by saving two match points against her serve in the 12th game, the second with a stinging backhand winner.
But Sakkari sealed it on her third attempt when Pegula’s effort found the back of the net.
“It’s never easy playing Jess,” Sakkari said, improving to 4-2 against the American.
“She’s a fantastic player.” She’s very self-assured right now. I knew it would be difficult, but I fought hard and trusted my game.”
Sakkari stated that she knew she had to be aggressive because of previous encounters with Pegula.
“If you’re passive, Jess will just make you run.” “She’ll hit the ball hard and it’ll be over,” Sakkari predicted.
“I believe it is always easier for the player who loses the first match than it is for the player who wins the first match.” The winner is under the most pressure. I don’t think she thought it was going to be an easy match because she beat me a week ago. She never made me feel undervalued today.” AFP