Ons Jabeur bounced back from her opening defeat and from dropping the first set on Wednesday to beat Jessica Pegula 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 at the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas.
Reeling from her loss to Aryna Sabalenka - where Jabeur led in the second-set tiebreak and held a break in the decider - the Tunisian was slow out of the blocks against her American opponent, dropping seven consecutive games early in the match.
A defeat would have eliminated the world No 2, following Maria Sakkari's 6-2, 6-4 win over Sabalenka in the late match, but she fought back to take the second and third sets against Pegula to stay in semi-final contention.
Only the top-two players from both round-robin groups advance to the knockout stages of the eight-player tournament.
“It was tough because I’m used to just being depressed for the next two days when I lose,” Jabuer, 28, said. “I didn’t have much time here, and it was very tough to sleep the first day, to be honest with you.”
It was just the second win in the past nine matches against a top-10 opponent for Jabeur, who also beat Pegula in the Madrid Masters final in May.
Third-ranked Pegula, like Jabeur a first-time WTA Finals participant, kept alive her slim semi-final hopes by winning a set while falling to 0-2 following her opening loss to Sakkari. She would need a straight-sets win over Sabalenka, while Sakkari would have to win in straight sets over Jabeur on Friday.
“I’m still in?” Pegula asked. “I don’t know. I’m like 0-4 the last two days. I take back what I said about the format not really mattering. If you’re losing four times in, like, three days, it definitely sucks more than when you have a week to reset.”
Jabeur, the first Arab woman to compete in the WTA Finals, saved five break points to win the first game of the third set, then Pegula saved two break points to get even at 3-3.
Pegula couldn’t do it again, losing to love on her serve to give Jabeur the chance to close out the match.
After dropping the first game of the match, Pegula won seven in a row for a 1-0 lead in the second set before Jabeur, who had 11 unforced errors in the first set, held serve.
“She was playing really well, and she was playing very fast,” Jabeur said. “I just had to find that click to change up the rhythm and impose my game more than her game.”
Sakkari advances to semis
Down a set and two breaks, the seventh-ranked Sabalenka won four consecutive games before Sakkari recovered and won the final three.
“She was just moving well, hitting the ball really good, not missing a lot,” Sabalenka said. “I was making some errors and that’s what was tough tonight. I tried my best, but she was just too good tonight.”
World No 5 Sakkari beat Sabalenka in the WTA Finals for the second consecutive year, needing an hour and 37 minutes after a nearly three-hour match that included two tiebreakers a year ago.
Two of Sakkari’s three victories against top 10 players have come this week after she won tiebreakers in both sets to beat Pegula.
“It’s been a long time since I had straight-set wins against these players,” said Sakkari, who is in the WTA Finals semi-finals for the second consecutive year. “That’s something new again for me. But at the same time, I’m being more clinical, and I can be even more.”