London: Tunisian Ons Jabeur gained revenge for her defeat in last year’s Wimbledon final when she surged back from a set down to beat third-seeded defending champion Kazakh Elena Rybakina 6-7(5) 6-4 6-1 on Wednesday to reach the semi-finals.
A year ago Jabeur looked on course to become the first Arabic and African female champion before fading to lose in three sets but the dream is still on in 2023 after the sixth seed mounted a spirited comeback having looked distraught after the first set tiebreak went against her.
Jabeur upped her game after that, remaining positive and going for the big shots as Moscow-born Rybakina’s big serve faltered and the on-fire Tunisian won eight of the last nine games.
She will play second seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semis after the Belarusian beat American Madison Keys in straight sets earlier.
'Lot of emotion'
“I wish we could exchange this match from the final last year,” Jabeur said. “I’m very happy with the performance. There was a lot of emotion out there, especially playing someone who serves really well. It’s frustrating to return but I’m glad I did everything, shouted, got angry then got calm and focused.
“The first (set) should have gone my way. I honestly doubted a little bit. I kept yelling at my coach saying, ‘You told me to play like this and look what’s happening’.
“Then I really tried to get back in the zone and believe this plan is the plan and kept going. I think I’m going to end up writing a book about my emotions because this is unbelievable.
“Hopefully I can keep managing my emotions like this for the next few matches.”
There were two breaks apiece in an untidy first set before third seed Rybakina found her accuracy at the right time to come through the tiebreak.
Jabeur said this week that it took her a long time to get over last year’s final defeat and she looked at her wit’s end after seeing the tiebreak slip away.
If there were any demons, however, she put them back in their place. Though she failed to take advantage of three break points in the first game, she developed into the dominant player of the set, cutting down the errors, scrambling in defence and breaking in the 10th to level the match.
Oddly the variety of pace and angle that she used to discombobulate Petra Kvitova in the fourth round was largely absent as she backed herself to take on the champion with weighty ground strokes while scrambling brilliantly in defence.
With the crowd behind her, the 28-year-old Jabeur was bouncing around the court when she broke to love for a 2-0 lead.
She held comfortably to make it five games in a row and sensed a sixth when she was 0-30 on Rybakina’s serve, only for the champion to save it.
Rybakina had two break points in the next game but this time it was Jabeur’s turn to show her mettle as she blasted four successive points to break her rival’s spirit.
Rybakina’s serve was still a powerful weapon when she landed it but in the third set she could barely got a first serve in, and paid the price when Jabeur broke again for 5-1 and served out for a joyous victory.
Sabalenka wins easy
World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka roared into the Wimbledon semi-finals with a 6-2 6-4 win over American Madison Keys on Wednesday.
The Belarusian, who has a tiger tattoo on her left arm, powered to victory on Court One and will face either Ons Jabeur or defending champion Elena Rybakina in the last four.
Second seed Sabalenka, 25, broke in the first game of the match, converting a fourth break point with a sweet backhand that sailed just over the net and out of the reach of Keys.
She broke the American 28-year-old again, giving her no time to think and launching every ferocious shot with a matching howl.
Sabalenka served out the set after 38 minutes, looking the favourite to reach her second semi-final at the All England Club having done so on her last appearance in 2021.
Grit and determination
However, Keys, chasing her first Wimbledon semi-final, came out in the second set with more grit and determination. After holding serve at 3-2 with a backhand winner, the American pumped her fist and shouted “come on” as she looked to level things up.
The 25th seed had three break points in the next game and took the third when Sabalenka sent a forehand wide.
But the Belarusian broke straight back, winning five points in a row from 40-0 down to snatch the momentum from Keys and she fired down an ace to level at 4-4 before breaking again and serving out the match.
“I can’t wait to play my second semi final at Wimbledon and hopefully I can do better than last time. It was a really tough match, really great player and super happy I was able to win the second set, (and the) game,” Sabalenka said on court.
“Thank you so much for the atmosphere, even though you support her more!,” she added with a smile, which drew applause from the crowd.