By Paul Lagan at Wimbledon
Jabeur v Sabalenka 6-7, 6-4, 6-3
Ons Jabeur is back in the singles final after a three setter that showed the partisan nature of the Wimbledon crowd but also an appreciation of some scintillating play by both players.
Once again the Tunisian showed fantastic resilience and came back from losing the first set to a tie-break to win the next two 6-4, 6-3.
Jabeur said afterwards: “Thank you to the crowd who kept me in the match. It was really very difficult receiving her shots and serves.
“I have been working in the mental side of the game. I’m glad I kept finding the strength and digging deep.
“I’m learning to transform bad energy into good energy.”
As for the final on Saturday, she said: “I’ve already lost twice to Vondrousova this year, I guess I’m going for revenge.”
The royal box had an empty seat for the start of the match where the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK Mr Vadim Prystaiko was no where to be seen.
Which given that Jabeur was playing Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus, it was no surprise.
A simple, powerful opening serve by Sabalenka set the proceedings in play.
However Jabeur responded in kind and the opening exchanges were level.
As expected the rallies started to get longer and it was a case of who would make the vital unforced error.
Sabalenka made fewer and this took her service game to go 2-1 up.
Jabeur responded to level the score but the point of the game when to Sabalenka with a powerful backhand down the line which left the Tunisian gasping in almost disbelief.
The crowd favourite was definitely Jabeur and when she zipped a forehand pst Sabalenka to go 15-30 up, you sensed from the full arena clapping that it was her who they wanted to prevail.
But as this is Wimbledon, where manners are everything, polite applies rippled whenever S Lanka produced a deft shot or powerful passing winner.
Despite some great returns by Jabeur, Sabalenka held her service and the game edged towards its climax without a break – Jabeur serving at 3-4 down easily held to keep the match level. Within a blink of n eye, and the match was level at 5-5.
Then it was 6-5 to Sabalenka, followed by a service win for Jabeur which took the set to the inevitable tie-break.
Sabalenka held her point, repeated by Jabeur, who then took a 2-1 lead, no mini-breaks so far.
Sabalenka then took Jabeur all over the court before firing a deserved winner to level at 2-2. A double-fault by Sabalenka heralded a mini-break to Jabeur at 3-2 on her serve, followed by a sequence of drives – all of which would be worthy winners in themselves saw Jabeur come out on top to make it 4-2. But a long return restored breaks with Sabalenka serving at 3-4. An ace made it 4-4, Hawkeye gave the next point to Sabalenka for 5-4. Then it was set point which Jabeur saved to make it 6-5 to Sabalenka, which she won when Jabeur hit her return long.
Jabeur held the first game of the second set without too much difficulty.
Lille the first set, it was down to the power game of the servers who dominated and the match continued with serve.
A sublime, underarm chipped drop-shot by Sabalenka won her her game.
And another on the first point of Jabeur’s serve gave the crowd something to cheer her for/
But that sentiment turned when Jabeur faced three break points and a double fault gave the game to Sabalenka and a 3-2 lead.
The grudging support by the crowd for Sabalenka was noticeable when she won her game to love to take a 4-2 lead. A smattering of applause was reciprocated by arena like clapping for a point won by Jabeur, and gasps of horror when he hit the ball into the net.
However the Tunisian held her serve in the end.
A fantastic sequence of hard-hitting and amazing recoveries finally winded with a winner by Sabalenka which gave her game point which she then squandered to deuce.
A double fault gave Jabeur advantage and a break point. Jabeur held her nerve, and she produced another fray of quality returns, forcing Sabalenka into an unforced error and brought the set back to 4-4.
but Sabalenka forced a break point on the next game, which she gin squandered, and then hit wide to give Jabeur game point which she took to go 5-4 up.
A break point and set point for Jabeur appeared and she took it with a smart backhand winner down the line after a slowish second serve by Sabalenka.
As expected and as the cliche dictates, the crowd went wild.
Jabeur held her first game in the final set.
A perfect service game by Sabalenka should have instilled a bit of confidence that her play hadn’t deteriorated to a losing position.
Jabeur went 3-2 up and when Sabalenka hit the net on her serve to give the Tunisian break point, the crowd cheered like it was the title winning point.
To their credit they understood and clapped her recovery winning point. But she needlessly shot wide for a third break point. A wonderful power drive beat Jabeur to match it back to deuce.
But another sequence of excellent returns by Jabeur secured the points she needed to win the break and take a 4-2 lead on her serve.
This then became 5-2 and the final was within her grasp.
Hawkeye then secured match point for Jabeur but this was countered by a superb ace by Sabalenka to get back to deuce.
A double-fault gave another match point, which, when challenged, was confirmed by Hawkeye.
Two excellent points kept the match alive for the Belarusian, but Jabeur needed only to hold serve to win.
15, love soon became 30, love and then match point.
And after two hours and 18 minutes, Jabeur served for the match but lost the pointing a net chord.
It was still two match points, and another was soon squandered by hitting the ball wide.
Still the crowd cheered for Jabeur and they were rewarded with a semi-final winning ace.
Pictured top: Jabeur and Sabalenka Picture: Paul Lagan
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