Ons Jabeur claimed a breakthrough victory in the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic quarterfinals on Friday, as the No.6 seed from Tunisia defeated No.1 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, 6-4, 6-2.
Jabeur had lost all three of her prior professional meetings against Svitolina, who was one of her foremost junior rivals as well. But on the hardcourts of Chicago, Jabeur at last broke that duck, coming back from a daunting first-set deficit to collect the win after an hour and 22 minutes of play.
"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, dropshot, everything that I could do, but it's never easy playing her. But I'm glad that I got the win in two sets."
Stat corner: Svitolina came into the clash having won her last seven matches in the city of Chicago: she claimed her first title of 2021 at the Chicago Women's Open just prior to the US Open.
But Jabeur, currently at her career-high ranking of World No.16, had already collected four wins over Top 10 players this year, and she continued her surge through her career-best season by taking home a fifth Top 10 win over World No.6 Svitolina.
Jabeur had 28 winners to Svitolina's nine, and the Tunisian successfully came back from a slow start to convert four of her 13 break points, while saving 11 of the 12 break points she faced.
Key moments: After saving two 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.
Jabeur pulled back on serve at 4-3, then fended off two more break points in the next game to reach parity at 4-4. Jabeur prevailed in the tense subsequent game, slamming a return winner to convert her third break point of that game and lead 5-4.
Jabeur had no problems serving out the set; both players had seven break points in the first set, but Jabeur broke twice and Svitolina broke only once.
Great aggressive play by Jabeur gave her a powerful 4-0, double-break lead in the second set, before Svitolina gritted out a very tough hold for 4-1, ending Jabeur’s 10-game winning streak. Jabeur had to stare down two break points in the next game, but the Tunisian pulled through and eased to victory from there.
Rybakina advances after Bencic injury: A rematch of the Olympics semifinals came to an unfortunate end as No.3 seed and Olympic champion Belinda Bencic of Switzerland injured her right knee during her match with No.5 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan and was forced to retire.
Rybakina advances, 6-4, 3-1, ret., into a matchup with Jabeur on Saturday. Rybakina is now into her third semifinal of the season, although surely not in the manner in which she hoped to gain the win.
"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 semifinal in their only prior meeting, with Bencic triumphing in three tough sets en route to winning the gold medal. Rybakina fell to Elina Svitolina in the bronze-medal match in three sets, finishing Tokyo 2020 in fourth place.
Rybakina was potentially on her way to avenging that loss, turning the opening set around in her favor. The Kazakh was behind an early break, but from 2-4 down, Rybakina reeled off four games in a row to snatch the first set.
The second set started in Rybakina's favor as well, as she picked up an early 3-1 lead. But Bencic was fighting to get the break back, and was about to hold a break point before injuring her right knee at the end of that point. Bencic was eventually able to walk off the court but could not continue.