No.1 seed Ons Jabeur captured her fifth Hologic WTA Tour title, second of 2023 and first of her career on hard courts at the Ningbo Open with a 6-2, 6-1 defeat of unseeded teenager Diana Shnaider in a 78-minute final.
The Tunisian, who is currently No.8 in the Race to the WTA Finals Cancun, had taken a last-minute wild card into the WTA 250 tournament following her third-round loss to Martina Trevisan in Guadalajara last week. She had previously claimed the Charleston title on green clay in April, but this was Jabeur's first appearance in a final since her 6-4, 6-4 loss to Marketa Vondrousova at Wimbledon.
Jabeur has now won titles on grass (Birmingham 2021, Berlin 2022), clay (Madrid 2021, Charleston 2022) and hard courts. She had previously lost three hard-court finals, one indoor (Moscow 2018) and two outdoor (Chicago 2021, US Open 2022).
No.85-ranked Shnaider had reached her first career final in just her ninth WTA main draw. One year ago, the 19-year-old was ranked No.220 and beginning her freshman year at NC State University. She cracked the Top 100 while still at college before turning pro in May, and is guaranteed a new career-high ranking in the Top 70 on Monday.
How the match was won: Jabeur had been pushed to three sets twice this week en route to the final, by Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals and Nadia Podoroska in the semifinals. But the 29-year-old delivered a rock-solid performance in the title match, keeping a consistent level throughout with no dips in form.
Jabeur was able to maintain aggressive pressure on Shnaider without going for low-percentage risk throughout, and managed to tally 18 winners to only 10 unforced errors while saving all three break points she faced. It wasn't until the home stretch that she began to bring out her signature touch shots, including a leaping, angled high backhand volley and a cat-and-mouse exchange in the final game that had started with a drop shot return.
Shnaider intermittently showed why she is such an exciting prospect, winning a tremendous all-court exchange early in the first set. But she was unable to hit through Jabeur's defense on a consistent basis, particularly in the tighter moments: Jabeur would win all six deuce games in the match.
In Jabeur's words: "These are little steps to winning a Grand Slam final. Playing a final here is more relaxed than playing a Grand Slam final, but I think it will help me gain confidence more, and to help me manage the pressure and stress.
"I think [Shnaider] is a terrific player and she really gave me a hard time. I know the score is 2 and 1, but it was more difficult than you see it. She has a lot of potential -- her game is really solid so I really expect to see her bothering other players. It was funny and cute that she shared the story of the Moscow final a few years back, where she first saw me playing. When I met her at the French Open this year, she told me about it.
"I felt more solid [than in previous matches], I felt tactically I played very well, I had an advantage in that I had more experience than her to manage certain points."
Siegemund and Zvonareva rally for doubles title
The No.1 seeds were also winners in doubles, as Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva came from a set down to topple Chinese favorites Guo Hanyu and Jiang Xinyu.
Playing in their sixth final as a pair, Siegemund and Zvonareva came from a set and a break down in the eventual 4-6, 6-3, [10-5] win to take home their second title of the season and fifth as a team. Siegemund boasts three doubles titles in 2023, having also won in Hobart with Kirsten Flipkens.
Siegemund and Zvonareva's fighting spirit was already on display in the set they lost, as they came from 4-1 down to knot the set at 4-4 before falling behind. They won five straight games from 3-1 behind in set two against the Chinese pair, playing in their first WTA final, and never led a lead slip when they got ahead in the match tiebreak.
They won the first two points, led 7-2, and converted the win on their third match point.