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By learning from losses, Ons Jabeur reaches her biggest final in Madrid
“I’m still really looking forward to what I can bring,” the 27-year-old said, after a resounding 6-2, 6-3 victory over Ekaterina Alexandrova sent her into her first WTA 1000 final.
Published May 05, 2022
WATCH: Ons Jabeur defeats Ekaterina Alexandrova in the 2022 Mutua Madrid Open semifinals.
Ons Jabeur has always been a crowd-pleasing tennis player. Now she’s wowing herself.
“I’m impressed with the fact I didn’t kind of focus on that point,” Jabeur said earlier this week, referring to the way she bounced back after losing an important rally in her win over Simona Halep.
“If I was really frustrated [after] this point, I could have lost the game. But happy that I kept it cool.”
The 27-year-old has kept it so cool at the Mutua Madrid Open that she is into her first Masters 1000 final. It may be her most significant career achievement to date, but it’s also a logical next step for her.
Last year Jabeur won her first title in Birmingham; made her first Wimbledon quarterfinal; and became the first Arab player to crack the Top 10. Last month she lost in the final in Charleston to Belinda Bencic; this week she reversed that result against Bencic, and then dominated former No. 1 Halep to set up a semi-grudge match with Ekaterina Alexandrova in the Madrid semifinals.
In the past, this might have been the moment when Jabeur came crashing to earth. Her game, which is based on sudden changes of pace and the constant threat of the drop shot, is one of the most unpredictable and unusual on either tour; but it’s also one of the riskiest, which means its effectiveness can swing wildly from one day to the next.
Alexandrova was certainly aware of this fact. The Russian is ranked just 45th, but she has always had Jabeur’s number. Before today Alexandrova was 6-1 against Jabeur; she didn’t have any trouble, it seemed, using her hard, flat strokes to pummel her way through Jabeur’s web of spins and drops.
For a brief moment early in the first set, it looked like that would be the case again. Alexandrova was on top of Jabeur’s drop shots; she rifled backhands past her at the baseline; she broke her with a powerful forehand. But Jabeur kept it cool again. And she didn’t go away from her game.
Up 3-2 in the first set, Jabeur finished a long, exhausting rally with a perfectly chosen and artfully measured crosscourt drop shot to break serve. The point left both players doubled over, but only Jabeur would recover. She would win the next two games for the set, and would never trail in the second. Her 6-2, 6-3 win gives her a chance for her biggest career title on Saturday.
“I feel good, I feel more confident on clay now, I played a lot of matches,” she said when she was asked about her run of good form.
Jabeur, who works with sports psychologist Melanie Maillard, attributes some of that success to a newfound willingness to analyze what she has done wrong in her losses.
“When I lose a match, [it’s] not just, ‘OK, I lost,’ and then move on. No, I just really need to know what happened in that game,” she said. “I think maturity-wise, I think I evolved in that part, and that’s what makes me the player I am today.
“I think this tournament is teaching me how to really dig deep.”
As a 16-year-old in 2011, Jabeur won the Roland Garros girls’ title. In the years since, her obvious talent seemed a little too untamed, too inconstant, for her to repeat that Grand Slam victory at the adult level. But she has slowly learned to weave her many shots into a coherent whole. This might have been a week when the pressure got to her; by the third round, with so many big names falling early, she was the highest seed left in the draw. Instead, Jabeur has seemed comfortable at center stage.
“Why not be Top 5 and win more titles?” Jabeur asked, rhetorically, after her last match. “I’m still really looking forward to what I can bring.”