Sunday, April 9, 2023

Call her Ons, Call her the Minister of Happiness, call her Charleston champion!

Ons Jabeur (photo by Daniel Ward)

Ons Jabeur became the 2023 Credit One Charleston Open singles champion today when she defeated Belinda Bencic 7-6, 6-4 in the final. Jabeur's path to the championship was a winding, and somewhat unusual, one. Last year, she left Charleston as the runner-up when Bencic defeated her 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 in the final. This was the first time in the tournament's history that the same two players competed in consecutive finals. 
photo by Daniel Ward

But that wasn't the only unusual occurrence at this event. For the first time in 23 years, the top four seeds played in the semifinals; it was also the first time in eleven years that the top four seeds had played in any WTA semifinals. And as if all that weren't enough, the finalists weren't even decided until today, shortly before the final took place.

There was a lot of rain in the Charleston area this week, and Saturday's semifinals were interrupted more than once. Jabeur was able to complete her match against Daria Kasstkina, but Bencic and top seed Jessica Pegula had to stop for the day during the second set tiebreak. Bencic won that tiebreak, despite being down 2-4 when the rain came, and 2-5 when play resumed. Not long after, she and Jabeur competed in the final.

In the first set, Bencic again found herself in a tiebreak. At 5-6, she proceeded to save five set points, and the excitement in the stadium was palpable. Jabeur took the set on her sixth set point, and then went up a double break for 4-1. But just as it looked as though the Tunisian star might run away with the match, Bencic began to apply the kind of pressure that we have come to expect from her. She broke Jabeur, then also created three break points when Jabeur served for the match at 5-4. It was an estimable effort, but it wasn't enough. The 2nd seed saved all three break points, saved the only game point that Bencic had, and won the match on her second match point.

photo by Daniel Ward

At the trophy ceremony, Bencic said to her friend, "I'm glad you're back. It's amazing when you're playing. It's a pain to play against you."

Later, in press, Bencic said: "I mean, it's a very difficult--I mean, I just woke up. I was just focusing on the Pegula match, and then you win and like fifteen minutes later you're playing a final. I mean, I know Ons, but it's still different when you are sleeping and when you're preparing mentally for the final. And for me it was a bit trickier today, but this is normal for us players. We always have to adapt."

That rang true. Bencic played well, but it did seem that the quick transition from semifinal to final did put her off her game a bit. Bencic went on to say: "I mean, it's tough to beat her, just, anyhow. I think she's really a high quality player, and she really has all the tools in her box. And, of course, you know, when I'm playing my best, I can try to press her and push her. But I think today she just also moved very good, and she was really counter-attacking very well."

For her part, Jabeur confirmed her statement that her friend Bencic doesn't play like anyone else. "she doesn't give you time. She goes for a lot of winners, and she has like certain--takes the step open to hit the backhand or the forehand. Doesn't give you a lot of time, which is not great for most of the players and also not great when you're moving on clay, because you never know where the ball is coming. And mentally she's someone that doesn't give up. Like she's always there, making you hit one more shot...."

Jabeur explained: "...I know I had to be patient and just run, like Daria yesterday, and get every ball....But you know, hanging in there and not getting angry was part of it. And I'm really glad that I maintained calm and just stick to the plan and continue to do what I am supposed to do during this match."

This is Jabeur's fourth WTA title. She has three titles on clay, and one on grass.

all photos by Daniel Ward

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