Ons Jabeur ousts defending champion Elena Rybakina, enters Wimbledon semis
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.
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“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 defense 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 defense.
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.