With the WTA Madrid Open Victory, Tunisian Ons Jabeur Makes History

Jabeur overcame a mid-match struggle to become 1st African player to win a WTA 1000 event
Ons Jabeur won her first WTA 1000 title in Madrid by beating Jessica Pegula in the final. (AP)
Jabeur improved to 2-4 in WTA finals and to 3-2 head-to-head against Pegula. (AFP)

Ons Jabeur made history by outlasting No.12 seed Jessica Pegula 7-5, 0-6, 6-2 to win the Mutua Madrid Open for her first WTA 1000 title on Saturday, May 7, 2022, becoming the first Arab player – male or female – to break into the world's top 10.

Despite trailing 4-1 early on and failing to win a game in the second set, the world number 10 defeated American Jessica Pegula 7-5 0-6 6-2. Pegula, the world number 12, had to save four break points in her first two service games before increasing the pressure on the Jabeur serve to break for 3-1.

In the seventh game, the 27-year-old Jabeur fought back, finding her range on the return and quickly catching up to Pegula. In an error-filled 10th game, Jabeur faced a set point but held, then broke Pegula to love with a signature drop-shot return and closed the set on the 54-minute mark.

Ons Jabeur holds the winner's trophy at the end of the women's final at the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, May 7, 2022. (AP)

Pegula was in trouble at the start of the second set, but she swatted away three break points and it was her turn to attack, sweeping the next six games in less than 30 minutes.

“I honestly still can't believe it,” said Jabeur, as she smiled through her post-match press conference. “I went through a roller coaster of emotions during the past few days, just after the semifinal. I was really stressed, trying to breathe like a pregnant woman.”

“I was like, 'No matter what you do, just don't lose your serve.' It was tricky moments there. I felt like even my body language was much better the third set. I was trying to go more forward and be able to back her shots, because she was really playing well.” Jabeur added.

Jabeur and Pegula have both made significant progress in the last two and a half years. Pegula was ranked 76 at the start of 2020, and Jabeur was ranked 77. Following Madrid's final, each will have a career-high ranking, with Jabeur matching the seventh spot she held last November and Pegula at number eleven.

Jabeur’s title in Birmingham last year was a milestone for an Arab woman player on the circuit as she was the first Arab player -- man or woman -- to crack the highest 10.

Jabeur began her season earlier this year at the 2022 Sydney International. In the first round, she defeated Astra Sharma once again. She defeated Petra Kvitova in the second round before losing in the quarterfinals to Anett Kontaveit. She later withdrew from the 2022 Australian Open due to a back injury suffered during the Sydney tournament.

Jabeur competed in the Dubai Championships in February. She defeated former world number two Vera Zvonareva and Jessica Pegula before losing in the quarterfinals to former world number one Simona Halep. She went on to compete in the Qatar Total Open. She defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Tereza Martincova after a first-round bye before losing to Kontaveit again in the quarterfinals.

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur celebrates winning her semi-final match against Russia's Ekaterina Alexandrova, in Madrid, May 5, 2022. (Reuters)

Jabeur received a bye into the second round at Indian Wells, where she was defeated by Daria Saville. She fell to 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins in the fourth round of the Miami Open.

Jabeur reached her first final of the season at the Charleston before losing to Belinda Bencic.

The World No. 10 reached her first WTA 1000 final at the 2022 Mutua Madrid Open, beating out Belinda Bencic and Simona Halep before defeating Ekaterina Alexandrova to become the first Arab and first African player to do so.

She defeated Jessica Pegula in the final to become the first African woman to win a WTA 1000 title, the ninth different winner of the Madrid Open, and the 38th different winner of a WTA 1000 tournament (since 2009).

With a tour-leading 12 victories on clay this season, the omens seem to be in Jabeur’s favor. She, however, has another ceiling to shatter so as to achieve the ultimate four of a slam for the primary time, as she already has 2 quarter-finals to her name in Australia in 2020 and Wimbledon last year.

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