After winning just three games in her last match against Petra Kvitova -- a 6-1, 6-2 defeat at the Western & Southern Open last summer -- Ons Jabeur went back to the drawing board with her next match against the Czech in mind.
On Wednesday in Sydney, the work paid off.
For the first time in five meetings, Jabeur emerged victorious against the two-time Wimbledon in champion thanks to a 6-4, 6-4 win in the second round of the Sydney Tennis Classic.
"[This win] was very important," Jabeur said after the match. "That's why, for some reason I was talking to my coach about it, that I wanted to win at least once against her. She's the kind of player that puts a lot of pressure on me that I don't particularly like, and that gave me the courage to work on this style of a game."
"Cincinnati was a very tough loss for me, but she played unbelievable. I'm someone that doesn't like to go home without any solutions, without knowing what should I do later. ... So that helps me to be better on the court and to get back and play better when you play someone that plays like that.
"I played well. I could have played better but I think I had a goal in my head and I went for it. It's very important that I managed to really do what I wanted to do."
The only way to play Petra’s powerful shots 😀😂 https://t.co/FR1iNr104T— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) January 12, 2022
Down but not out: Jabeur's first win against Kvitova didn't come without adversity. She rallied from 3-1 down in each set to seal victory, having never previously won a set in her defeats.
"I think I'm playing better. As a player, I'm much better on the court. I'm more confident, Jabeur said. "I've got to say, I learned from my losses against her, especially the last one in Cincinnati. To be honest, I'm glad that the court wasn't super fast. It kind of helped me a little bit.
"I practiced more and more on those shots. I'm getting better on this one. Been trying to put every ball in and more ball in to make it difficult for her. It gave me confidence on the court to kind of make sure to play my shots."
Grudge match upcoming? The rivalry between Jabeur and Anett Kontveit was the story down the stretch in 2021 and the two will resume their rivalry in the quarterfinals. Kontaveit advanced to the last eight with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Romanian qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse, and the pair will play for the first time since Kontaveit eclipsed Jabeur for the eighth and final spot at the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara last fall.
"Anett is a great player," said Jabeur, who got Kontaveit to join Twitter earlier this week. "We had our moments last year. I told her, 'You're obsessed with me, you always follow me, so stop. But it's great to have her on tour. She's a tough player. Even the matches we played against each other were always tough. ... I know the pressure is on me, not really on her. But maybe some payback for last year."
"She is going to give everything, and she doesn't care about the results. So I will try to do the same, and I will really try to win tomorrow."
Same picture. New season.— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) January 8, 2022
Pay back for last year and welcoming Anett on Twitter 😅🤣 https://t.co/M3N1puR3yI pic.twitter.com/x1kLnbhwOC
Muguruza saves set points to stave off Alexandrova
Playing her first match of 2022, Garbiñe Muguruza started the new year as she ended the last -- with a straight-sets win. But she had to find her best tennis to earn it. Saving five set points in a thrilling second set, Muguruza beat Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-1, 7-6(4) to book a place in the quarterfinals.
Words from the winner: "I think I started very good, playing the right way, making the shots," Muguruza told reporters after the match. "I feel she made a couple unforced errors very quickly, so that allowed me to escape in the score and close that first set very quickly.
"The second set was probably was going to be tougher, maybe she started to play better. It got more equal, and I managed to save those set points that were very important and put pressure on her and force the tiebreak, because once you're in the tiebreak, you feel like anything can happen. I just stood strong there."
There was little to foreshadow how the second set would unfold in the opener. Muguruza won the first 12 points of the match and wrapped up a one-set lead in just 25 minutes. However, Alexandrova showed the tennis that earned her the distinction of being Russia's top-ranked player three years ago over the next hour, breaking Muguruza to lead 2-0 and eventually staying strong on serve to keep the lead for much of the second set.
Muguruza stared down all five set points in the 10th game of the set, denying Alexandrova at 15-40 and three subsequent chances past deuce. While the Russian was still in with a chance of forcing a final set in the ensuing games, Muguruza raced out to a 6-1 lead in the tiebreak and held on for the 86-minute win.
Up next: Muguruza will face Daria Kasatkina, who took out Elise Mertens, 6-3, 6-4 in 71 minutes, for a spot in the semifinals. Muguruza holds a slim 3-2 head-to-head advantage, and all but one of the pair's all-time matches have stretched to three sets.
"We've played many times. I remember long matches, very physical matches," Muguruza said. "So I'm expecting a similar match, although her game, it's long rallies and baseline player. I expect that that's going to be a long, tight match."