Ons Jabeur made to fight for Australian Open second-round spot

Tunisian world No 2 survives three-set battle against Tamara Zidansek at Melbourne Park

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World No 2 Ons Jabeur survived a mid-match stumble before finally overcoming Tamara Zidansek 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.

The Tunisian, who reached the final at both Wimbledon and the US Open last season, needed two hours and 17 minutes to secure victory over the Slovenian under the roof on Rod Laver Arena.

Jabeur has set herself the twin targets in 2023 of becoming the first Arab and African woman to win a Grand Slam and toppling Iga Swiatek from the No 1 ranking.

But the 28-year-old, who had strapping on her left knee, suffered early nerves as she dropped her opening service game against the world No 98 but broke back straight away.

Further breaks were exchanged before the powerful Jabeur eventually outlasted Zidansek 10-8 in an attritional tiebreak at the end of a first set that lasted a draining 68 minutes.

Serving at 3-4 in the second, Jabeur was broken for a third time and Zidansek took advantage to level the match.

But after the extended interval between sets, Jabeur cleaned up her play, made fewer errors and sped away to victory.

"I just tried to follow what my coach told me to do," she said of her turnaround in the third set. "I wasn't really doing that and he's going to kill me after the match."

Jabeur committed 49 unforced errors during her stuttering opening match, with Zidansek conceding 40 herself, but only six came in her much-improved third set.

"It was a very tough match," said Jabeur. "I wasn't playing very well, and she was putting a lot of pressure on me.

"She's a player that doesn't give up and brings every ball in, so I was getting pretty frustrated. I told myself to be No 2 in the world and just win this match.

"I just tried to be more patient," she added. "It's a tough sport and you definitely don't want to play three sets here."

In the end, Jabeur managed to set up a second-round meeting with either Alison Riske-Amritraj of the US or Czech Marketa Vondrousova.

Jabeur, who missed last year's Australian Open with a back injury, won Madrid and Berlin trophies last year in a breakout season that propelled her to a new high in the rankings.

She reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final at Melbourne Park in 2020 and has now won 11 of her last 12 opening-round matches at majors, the only loss coming to 52nd-ranked Magda Linette at Roland Garros last year.

Updated: January 17, 2023, 1:20 PM