MASON, Ohio -- World No.5 Ons Jabeur survived a strong challenge from No.179 Caty McNally, saving three match points to edge the hometown favorite 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(7) in the second round.
The Wimbledon finalist acknowledged she hasn't been able to tap into her best game on hard courts, but she's going to have to level up quickly. She faces two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova next for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Jabeur looked in control early against McNally, leading by a set and 2-1 with a break in hand. But McNally's swarming net-game proved a tough problem to solve on this day. It took Jabeur's experience and courage late in the third set to edge the 20-year-old in a decisive tiebreak.
"Honestly, I'm not playing my best tennis right now," Jabeur told WTA Insider after the win. "But it's good to win ugly. I'm glad I did pull it out, fighting a lot and bringing that energy at the end. I needed that. Pretty happy that after two hours and a half I can get the win.
"It's not easy but I just will hope that my level will rise for the next match because playing Petra, I need more than just fighting."
Since her outstanding run on the natural surfaces, which included the biggest title of her career in Madrid, a Rome final, a title on the grass in Berlin and her first major final at Wimbledon, Jabeur is still looking for her rhythm on hard courts. It's easy to forget that she tested positive for Covid right before the start of the season, which derailed her hard-court season in the spring. A back injury ruled her out of the Australian Open.
"I haven't played on hard courts a lot this season," Jabeur said. "Also, it's kind of the end of the season right now. So this is the last push. I have played a lot of matches. A lot of pressure on me. It's the first time I kind of handled this kind of pressure.
"But I'm trying to learn. I'm trying to motivate myself. I'm trying to understand myself better and push myself more."
Jabeur is hoping that experience once again works in her favor.
"I played ugly at the start of Madrid. I didn't play my best tennis. I was fighting. I had issues. It did happen before. So I'm just going to see.
"Hopefully this tournament is starting bad and finishing great. I'm just going to enjoy every match and see what's going to happen."