Forth Worth (Texas) Ons Jabeur came back to defeat Jessica Pegula 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in a thrilling match at the WTA Finals here on Thursday.
Jabeur came back to defeat Pegula and this victory will likely have larger ramifications for the Tunisian. Previously, she had dropped seven of the past eight matches against Top 10 players. This was the kind of victory she can use toward maintaining her place among the elite in women’s tennis.
All four of the singles winners over the first two days happened to be the four players who had previously played in the year-end championship. A coincidence? Perhaps not.
Based solely on seeding, three of the four matches were upsets, as first-timers No.2 Ons Jabeur, No.3 Jessica Pegula and No.4 Coco Gauff were defeated, respectively, by Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari and Caroline Garcia.
Wednesday’s match between Jabeur and Pegula — two 28-year-old players finishing up the season of their lives — was an opportunity to demonstrate their growth in grappling with the round-robin format and the pressure of the year-end event.
“After the first set, she was playing really well and really fast,” Jabeur said on the Tennis Channel set. “The balls were tough, very low � I know she likes to play the balls like that. And I just had to find that click to just change up the rhythm and impose my game.”
For Pegula, it was another disappointment against a Top 5 player, her ninth consecutive loss (0-7 in 2022) and her career mark is 2-13.
“It’s never easy playing Jess,” Jabeur said in her on-court interview. “She plays super-fast, and it was super-fast from the beginning. I had to find my rhythm.”
While Jabeur is new to the WTA year-end championships, she does have some round-robin experience.
“I played the Arab Championship and African Championship,” she said before the tournament began. “And one year we played the World Cup in the under-14.
“So yeah, for me the only thing that I should do is win every match so I don’t have to calculate anything.”
While Jabeur is very much alive and already contemplating her Friday match against Sakkari, Pegula managed to avoid elimination.
For Jabeur, the loss to Sabalenka on Monday was jarring.
“Honestly, it was very tough,” Jabeur said. “Because I’m used to being depressed for the next two days when I lose. I didn’t have much time. It was very hard to sleep the first day to be honest with you.”
The turnover at the WTA Finals the past two years has been remarkable. A year ago, six of eight participants were rookies. Swiatek, Sabalenka and Sakkari are the only three repeaters from that event in Guadalajara, with Garcia reprising her 2017 appearance in Singapore. For only the fourth time in history, neither of the two finalists from the year before qualified, Garbine Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit.
Muguruza, in fact, finished No.49 in the race, while Kontaveit was in the chase to the end at No.16. The other three qualifiers from Guadalajara who fell short: Paula Badosa (13 in the Race), Barbora Krejcikova (No.22) and Karolina Pliskova (No.30).
“My first match, it was a few points, a few opportunities that were missing,” Jabeur said in her post-match press conference. “And I feel like this whole tournament is about who’s going to seize those points to be able to win.
“Because you never know. I lost my first match, and now I’m back in the game. One more match left. It’s tricky and everyone’s trying to give100 percent. You don’t have many opportunities, so you really have to focus.”