ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- In a battle between two players separated by only seven spots in the WTA singles rankings, No.15 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia got the better of Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, claiming a 7-6(3), 6-3 win to move into the second round at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.
"To be honest, it was a good one for me," Jabeur told the press, after her victory. "It was a tough match, not an easy first round or first match, but I went there with the spirit like, I’m not afraid, I’m just going to go in and give it all."
World No.31 Jabeur had won their lone previous meeting in three sets at Dubai in 2017, but this time around, the Tunisian got the job done in straight sets, needing one hour and 29 minutes to outlast 38th-ranked Pavlyuchenkova.
The clash, as expected, was not easy, as Jabeur had to dodge two set points at 5-4 in the opening frame before moving to victory. However, Jabeur ended the match with 31 winners as she continued her run of recent success which currently has her at a career-high singles ranking.
"[Pavlyuchenkova] plays amazing, and if you go a little bit back and not dominate, of course she will hit the ball good, and she wants to take control," said Jabeur. "So the point of the whole match was for me to take control more, to mix it up a little bit."
"It was fun, to be honest," the Tunisian added. "I loved that my dropshot was really good today. I loved that I made a few nice shots. I’m feeling good, I’m feeling fit and amazing on the court, so hopefully I can continue playing this way and even better."
"I have to give credit also to my serve," Jabeur continued. "I’ve been practicing a lot of serves in the pre-season, and I’m trying to go full power, even if sometimes it doesn’t go."
In the second round, Jabeur, who became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam singles quarterfinal at last year's Australian Open, will face either Wang Yafan of China or a qualifier to be determined.
An early exchange of breaks did little to separate the players in the first set as they reached parity at 3-3. A number of closely contested games followed, with Pavlyuchenkova having to save three break points at 3-3 and a whopping five break points at 4-4 to remain on serve.
Nevertheless, the powerful Russian was nearly rewarded for her persistence in the next game, blasting a backhand winner to reach double set point at 5-4. Jabeur, though, broke open rallies with blistering groundstrokes of her own to erase the Russian’s chances, gritting out a hold for 5-5 to keep the set alive.
A love hold by Jabeur for 6-6 put her in great stead as the players moved into a decisive first-set tiebreak, with the Tunisian drawing errors from Pavlyuchenkova to claim a quick 4-1 lead. Jabeur extended her advantage in the breaker to 6-2, and she converted her second set point with an exceptional backhand dropshot for a winner.
The momentum swung Jabeur’s way entirely in the second set, as the Tunisian found every pocket of the court to leap to a 5-1 lead. Jabeur, however, was unable to close out the win at her first opportunity, double faulting to drop serve in that game and handing Pavlyuchenkova a chance to recover.
Former Top 15 player Pavlyuchenkova used all of her experience to make the most of the match’s extension, and after a hold for 5-3, the Russian found her way to triple break point in the next game, giving herself three chances to pull the second set back on serve.
However, with her back against the wall, Jabeur used all of her variety of shot to play her best when she needed to. The Tunisian started with a dropshot winner, then fired two fine forehands to draw back to deuce. Now on a roll, Jabeur cracked her fourth ace to conjure up her first match point, which she converted after a deep backhand forced a final error from the Russian.
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