NEW YORK -- Ons Jabeur, by her exceedingly high standards, has endured a rough summer.
She was so heartbroken after losing the Wimbledon final -- her second in two years -- that she couldn’t bring herself to play three weeks later in Montreal. The following week in Cincinnati, she lost her third match to Aryna Sabalenka. And then Jabeur headed here -- where a year ago, she lost in the final.
This US Open, however, has required her full attention -- and perhaps that’s a good thing. Despite a debilitating case of influenza that sometimes left her looking dazed and confused, Jabeur won her first-round match over Camila Osorio. She was forced to three sets by Czech teenager Linda Noskova (and down a break in the third set), but managed to prevail in the second round.
“Yeah, emotionally could be tired,” Jabeur said afterward, “but I know if I just let go, I will regret it after. So I want to continue and stay in New York as long as I can.”
On Saturday night, Jabeur guaranteed herself at least a few more days in the Big Apple, defeating No.31 seed Marie Bouzkova 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3 in a wild and crazy match. It was the second straight three-set triumph for the 29-year-old from Tunisia.
The contest ran a staggering (literally) 2 hours, 55 minutes.
Jabeur, who converted her third match point, produced 56 winners and 63 unforced errors.
“It’s never easy playing somebody injured,” Jabeur said in her on-court interview. “I saw her struggling a little bit with her leg. I tried to make her run with the drop shots. I was trying to win the match.
“Huge respect to her, for sure.”
On Monday, Jabeur meets No.23 Zheng Qinwen, the rising 20-year-old from China, in the Round of 16. Zheng was a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 winner over Lucia Bronzetti.
In their lone previous meeting, Zheng advanced past Jabeur in Toronto last year, after the Tunisian retired during their second set.
Last December, Bouzkova attained her career high ranking of No.24. How, then, to explain this unlikely fact: The 25-year-old from the Czech Republic had won her past four matches against Top 10 players, most recently No.6 Caroline Garcia in Montreal and No.3 Jessica Pegula in Cincinnati.
In their first-ever meeting last year in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, Bouzkova won the opening set 6-3 before Jabeur rallied to win the last two sets by identical 6-1 scores.
On Saturday night, Bouzkova again got off quickly, forging five break points with Jabeur serving at 1-2. Bouzkova, a relentless retriever, eventually won the game’s 16th point, when Jabeur’s slice backhand found the net.
Jabeur fought off a set point while trailing 5-2, then later converted her first break point opportunity on a Bouzkova backhand into the net. That put the set back on serve -- but just when a tiebreak loomed, Bouzkova broke Jabeur again.
Jabeur missed two makeable overheads, leading to Bouzkova’s second set point. Jabeur saved it, but an errant forehand and a 68-miles-per-hour double fault -- the first of the match -- gave Bouzkova the set.
If there's a will, there's a way. pic.twitter.com/ZrTzEXUjoi— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 3, 2023
In the second set, a volley error helped Jabeur convert her second break point for a 2-1 lead. It was even at 2-2 when Jabeur lost five straight points, the last another double fault, but a third consecutive break gave Jabeur a 3-2 lead.
At 4-3, Bouzkova called for the trainer, having stumbled awkwardly earlier in the match. Bouzkova continued on, forcing Jabeur to try to serve out the set -- which did not happen. Bouzkova leveled the set when a wild Jabeur forehand sailed out, and went on to hold for a 6-5 lead.
Jabeur, however, held again and forced a tiebreaker, where a winning overhead sent the match into an ultimate set.
The tiebreaker seemed to energize Jabeur, and after holding serve she broke Bouzkova -- at love -- to take a 2-0 lead. Naturally, Bouzkova broke right back and held to make it 2-2. Two games later, Bouzkova led 40-0, but the Czech lost five straight points, and Jabeur took a decisive 4-2 lead which she would not relinquish.