'Patience the key' as Ons Jabeur fights back from the brink to reach Stuttgart quarters

Tunisian third seed defeats Jelena Ostapenko 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 for her sixth straight win

Ons Jabeur celebrates her win against Jelena Ostapenko at the Stuttgart Open. Reuters
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Ons Jabeur said her ability to practice patience this season paid off at the Stuttgart Open on Wednesday night when she fought back from the brink to defeat Jelena Ostapenko and reach the quarter-finals.

Jabeur was staring at a straight-sets loss as Ostapenko served for the match, but the Tunisian produced a rousing comeback to win 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. The third seed will face either sixth seed Elena Rybakina or Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia for a place in the semi-finals.

Should Jabeur face Rybakina, it will be the first meeting between the pair since last summer's Wimbledon final, which the Kazakh won from a set down.

Jabeur, who won her first title of the season last week at the Charleston Open following an injury-hit start to the year, had few answers for Ostapenko's power hitting in the first set as the Latvian recovered from getting broken in the first game to win six in a row and claim the opener in 30 minutes.

Jabeur looked to be heading for defeat when Ostapenko broke for a 2-1 lead in the second set and had the chance to serve out the victory at 5-4, but the Tunisian found a way back in to win three straight games to level the match.

The only break in the decider went Jabeur's way at 4-2 and the world No 4 maintained her advantage to ultimately seal the win on her fifth match point and extend her winning run to six matches.

"Definitely patience was one of the keys today, but I think most importantly was accepting that she was doing great and hitting winners," Jabeur, 28, said. "After all, it's her game. For me, I was, like, OK, she cannot play like this the whole match. If she does, then she deserves to win, obviously.

"I just think, especially on the return games, the moment I stayed patient, the better that I played, especially just returning one ball and give it more spin. That's where I think I was getting more and more rhythm."

Indeed, patience has been a virtue for Jabeur this season and, in fact, for much of her career. A French Open junior champion, Jabeur was still ranked outside the top 50 at the start of the 2020 season, but has since surged up the rankings, breaking new ground for Arab and African tennis and establishing herself amongst the elite, the talent the tennis world always knew she had finally being realised.

After reaching two Grand Slam finals last year, hopes were high for Jabeur at the start of 2023 but a back injury put paid to her Australian Open chances and resulted in the Tunisian missing the Middle East swing. She returned for the Indian Wells and Miami Open 'sunshine double', even if she admitted those tournaments perhaps came too soon in her recovery.

However, Jabeur captured her first title since last summer in Charleston last week to offer evidence that she is getting closer to her best. Crucially, that triumph has also provided a major boost in confidence ahead of the French Open.

"Sometimes I feel like it's meant to be that I didn't start the year great, the most important thing is I take care of my health, and everything happens for a reason, and whatever is meant to be to happen this year is going to happen as long as I give 100 per cent and I follow whatever I need to follow," Jabeur said.

"On the other side, it's like, 'Oh, the other girls are playing really well. Am I gonna come back to the same level or not?' But I took the decision to play Indian Wells and Miami just to show that I'm back here and I'm still alive.

"Charleston was honestly an unexpected title. For me, I was taking it one step at a time. I was trying to find more motivation and just finding my rhythm on the court.

"I was very, very patient, even though sometimes it did not go my way. I know during practices I'm playing really well with other players, and now just will continue and do that. The key was for me to be patient and wait for my game to come back."

Updated: April 20, 2023, 6:22 AM