OSTRAVA, Czech Republic - A compelling clash in the second round of the J&T Banka Ostrava Open saw Ons Jabeur get the better of wildcard Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 24 minutes to reach her fifth quarterfinal of the year.
In a battle between players better known for their spectacular shotmaking than their solidity, it was the Tunisian who rode the ebbs and flows of mercurial form from both sides of the net to a tightly contested victory that featured eleven breaks of serve in total. Jabeur's greater consistency was borne out by the final numbers - 27 winners to 23 unforced errors compared to Ostapenko's subpar ratio of eight winners to 28 unforced errors - but the unpredictable nature of the two players' games meant that momentum hung in the balance at almost every stage, with the edginess evident in vocal frustration from both throughout.
"To be able to keep myself calm in the match - especially knowing that I had so many opportunities, especially in the first set, was something I'm proud of today," said a relieved Jabeur afterwards. "It was a tricky game - we were not winning our serves, which was kind of difficult, and I had to break each time. When I won my serve at 5-4, I said to myself, this is my chance, I have to win now. Honestly, I thought I was serving good, but she was returning really well... It's the end of the season, a difficult year, so I'm always trying to find my motivation during this tournament - I think I'm doing a great job, I'm still hungry to win more matches."
Over half a decade had passed since the pair's only previous meeting, won by Ostapenko 6-3, 6-4 in the 2015 Sobota ITF $75K quarterfinals, but Jabeur raced out of the blocks as if keen for belated revenge. The 26-year-old fired down three service winners and an ace in the opening game before breaking Ostapenko with a clean forehand return winner.
But if the Latvian's accuracy was not at its most consistent today, her approach in going for bold shots when down was reliable. Jabeur would see 40-0 and 40-15 leads evaporate in consecutive service games as Ostapenko unleashed on return, levelling the first set at 3-3.
Over the course of the match, though, it was Jabeur who proved better able to deal with her opponent's best tennis than vice versa - ably demonstrated in the numerous points where she was able to take all the power out of an Ostapenko groundstroke blast to essay a sudden, delicate dropshot. By contrast, Ostapenko was frequently out-manoeuvred by Jabeur's finesse, and even when the 23-year-old managed to get up to the dropshot in sufficient time would go for too much in response.
Serving to stay in the set, Ostapenko's baseline consistency faltered at the most inopportune moment, with a netted forehand conceding the frame on Jabeur's second set point.
The roles would be reversed in the second act: this time, it was Ostapenko who gained the lead first, breaking Jabeur for 2-1 - but who continually found herself pegged back. Though the quality of Jabeur's serve oscillated throughout - the World No.32's six aces were counterbalanced by five double faults - when it landed, it was subtantially more effective than Ostapenko's, with 63% of first serve points won by Jabeur compared to just 50% for Ostapenko.
Thus, it was no shock that a sequence of six straight service breaks was ultimately snapped by the Australian Open quarterfinalist just as the set reached its business end, with Jabeur holding for 5-4 thanks to a forehand winner. Battling valiantly, Ostapenko did well to save triple match point as she served to stay alive - but a fourth would prove beyond her as Jabeur fired a clean backhand return winner down the line to set up a last-eight date with Maria Sakkari.
"At the end I was like, should I go cross? Down the line? Cross? Down the line?" recalled Jabeur. "I asked myself 5,000 times already - and in the end I just went down the line because she was waiting for the ball cross. I was relieved!"