The circadian rhythm tennis offers is typically one to which you can set your watch. Time zones may vary, but an 11 a.m. start time is forever—or so we thought. At the inaugural Chicago Fall Tennis Classic, players scheduled for the first match of the day have been subjected to a decidedly unorthodox 9 a.m. start, leading to shock from some and slow starts from others.

“I think the last time I got up at 5:30 a.m. probably was during the pre-season or to take a flight,” joked No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur. “Not to play a match! But I can’t complain much; I just tried to do everything an hour earlier than usual, even going to sleep and eating an hour before.”

Known for her audacious shot selection and instinctive style, Jabeur lost the first four games of her third-round clash with Jessica Pegula in 16 minutes before righting the ship to advance, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 over the No. 9 seed.

“Whether it’s 9 a.m. or 5 p.m. playing Jessica is never easy, so I’m glad I got the rhythm later, started moving better and found the solutions today to win.”

Jabeur and Pegula have been two of the post-pandemic landscape’s biggest revelations, each becoming Top 25 staples thanks to Grand Slam quarterfinal runs in London and Melbourne, respectively.

The Tunisian’s surge into the last eight at Wimbledon came after winning a historic first WTA title in Birmingham but her hard-court momentum hit a snag when she failed to close out Pegula in a topsy-turvy quarterfinal in Canada.

“I think I learned a lot from that match, especially learning to focus better at 30-0 on my serve,” she said, recalling her set and 5-4 lead on Pegula at the Omnium Banque Nationale in Montréal. “I got up 40-0 in the last game, but you always expect her to come back. I started playing defensively and that was a little mistake at the end, but I’m glad I got the game and could close things out this time.

“This is something I like about myself and my team: Montréal wasn’t just a loss, but something we learned from, and I’m glad we’re still learning so that everything can go well.”

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Jabeur entered this week ranked No. 9 in the Race to the WTA Finals.

Jabeur entered this week ranked No. 9 in the Race to the WTA Finals.

Fresh off a third-round finish at the US Open and very much in the hunt for an incredible WTA Finals debut in Guadalajara, Jabeur dropped just one game to Hsieh Su-Wei in her Chicago opener but looked decidedly out of sorts to start her rematch with Pegula, who matched Jabeur’s result in New York.

“I’m usually super tired at the end of the year, and it can be hard to find the motivation after giving it all the entire season,” Jabeur said. “I had a big goal and it’s stressing me a lot, especially because I know many players are hungry go there. I think I made my peace with it, and if it comes, I’m happy with it. If not, it’s a sign I need to take time off court and take care of my body to be ready for next year.”

Pegula’s year has been marked by a mastery of Karolina Pliskova, defeating the former world No. 1 four times before Pliskova finally earned her revenge at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. She began the early encounter with Jabeur playing cleaner tennis as her higher-ranked opponent sprayed 11 unforced errors in a 25-minute first set.

Jabeur flipped the stats considerably in the second, erasing a 0-40 deficit to hold onto her early break of serve to eventually level the match behind a second break and 14 winners to just five errors.

Trading solid holds early in the decider, Jabeur made her move in the eighth game, pulling off a physics-defying drop shot as Pegula served at 30-15 and reeled off the next six points to find herself ahead three match points.

Pegula would put on a brave last stand to save all three and even hold two break points of her own but Jabeur would make no mistake on her fourth opportunity, putting down a big serve to clinch the encounter after 94 minutes on Stadium Court.

In all she struck 24 winners to 21 unforced errors—half of which came in the first set—to book a quarterfinal with top seed Elina Svitolina, who dismissed in-form Romanian Elena-Gabriela Ruse at a far more forgiving hour.

Later, second seed Garbiñe Muguruza advanced to the quarterfinals via walkover when 14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka pulled out.