Tennis

Jabeur edges Putintseva to reach Tianjin SF: ‘This win…it’s very important’

TIANJIN, China – Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur advanced to her second semifinal of the season at the Tianjin Open on Friday by defeating No.6 seed Yulia Putintseva in a pair of tiebreaks, 7-6(5), 7-6(4).

Friday’s quarterfinal was a tale of two sets for the Tunisian, as she won the opener despite seeing a 4-1 lead slip away, and rallied from 4-0 down in the second set to beat the Kazakh in their first-ever tour-level meeting.

“We faced each other a lot in juniors, and I think I always lost, so it was kind of a revenge for me,” Jabeur said. 

“She’s a tough player. She has a different game – sometimes she can hit spin, sometimes she can hit hard, you never know what she’s going to do.

“She’s a fighter. Every point, she runs everywhere, so that makes it even harder for me. “The dropshot wasn’t there today, and the serve also was a little bit weak for me.

“I’m enjoying being here. I’m going to take this win, because it’s very important in my career…and I’m glad I made it to the semifinals.”

After winning four of the first five games of the match and breaking Putintseva twice, the Tunisian surrendered the next three to see the Kazakh level the opener at 4-4. 

Though she earned an opportunity to serve for a one-set lead with a third break of serve, the World No.61 ultimately needed to wrap up a first set that lasted just under an hour in a tiebreak, as she dropped serve for a third time herself without getting to set point.

In the second set, it was the World No.36 who won all the tight games to lead early on, breaking twice to lead 4-0 before Jabeur got on the board with a love hold. 

The set proceeded to unfold in mirror fashion to the first, with Jabeur winning four straight games, but dropping serve at 4-4 to afford to Putintseva an opportunity to serve for a final set.

Nonetheless, the Tunisian broke to love to keep her bid for a straight-set victory alive, and battled back from a 3-1 deficit in the second tiebreak by winning the last four points.

“I tried to move more, because she was doing all of these high balls. When I moved my legs a little bit, and I tried to take the balls early, that did bother her,” Jabeur said.

“I just let it go. When I let it go, I was playing much better. I was coming back in the score, and then she broke me again at 4-4 – which was difficult, because she was returning really good, plus me not serving good.

“I’m happy that I was able to take the break back at 5-4, but it was a tough match, so I’m going to recover a little bit.”

The Tunisian will next face Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson for a spot in her second career WTA final, and merely taking the court in the final four will earn her a better result than in her season’s previous semifinal appearance. 

After suffering an ankle injury in a dramatic quarterfinal victory over Alizé Cornet, she gave Angelique Kerber a walkover at the Nature Valley International in June, and has now won consecutive main draw matches for just the second time since then. 

“I think I always play good at the end of the season. Everyone is tired, including me, but probably thinking about vacation makes me play better,” she said with a laugh. 

“I was expecting a better season, but hopefully I’ll end this run and start really good next year. I’m really looking forward. I set big challenges for myself, and I hope I can achieve them.”

The Swede came from a set down to defeat China’s Wang Yafan in Friday’s opening quarterfinal, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2, and the Nanchang champion owns a 1-0 head-to-head record against Jabeur as she looks to make her second final on Chinese soil this fall. 

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