Ons Jabeur on to semis at Chicago as career year continues

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CHICAGO — Ons Jabeur had never beaten Elina Svitolina, but Svitolina had never faced the new, improved Jabeur, who is in the midst of a career season.

Jabeur, who came into the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic ranked a career-best 16th, fell behind 4-1 in the first set before rallying for a 6-4, 6-2 victory over the sixth-ranked and top-seeded Svitolina in the quarterfinals. The Tunisian won her 43rd match of the year, tying her with second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka for the most on the WTA Tour.

Jabeur was 0-3 against Svitolina, most recently losing in 2019 at Dubai.

“I’m glad that I’m learning from my losses against her or against any other player. The most important thing is the hard work through the years. I’m a different player right now,” Jabeur said. “I have played a lot of matches, I have much more experience, and to manage the stress, to manage the fact that I had opportunities, it’s amazing to see that it’s paying off.”

Jabeur became the first Arab tournament winner in WTA history in June at Birmingham, England. Beyond lifting the trophy in Chicago, Jabeur’s goal is to make next month’s WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“Knowing I can be the first Arab to qualify, it’s really unbelievable, you know, and it’s more stress on me,” she said.

The sixth-seeded Jabeur will play fifth-seeded Elena Rybakina in the semifinals. Rybakina led Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic 6-4, 3-1 when Bencic retired because of a right knee injury.

In the other semifinal, two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza will face 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova. The second-seeded Muguruza dispatched qualifier Mai Hontama 6-3, 6-2.

“She definitely pushed me to bring my A game, to concentrate, to be tough out there,” Muguruza said. “I’m really surprised with her game.”

Seeking her second title of the year, Muguruza will at least be fresher than her next opponent. Vondrousova beat American Danielle Collins 6-7 (4), 6-0, 7-6 (3) in a match that lasted 2 hours, 32 minutes.

“I felt like the first set was like 50/50 and then I started serving really well, and I think she was a bit down,” Vondrousova said. “But I knew she was coming back for the third set, and then it was just like pure fight.”

Jabeur bounces back at French Open, Ruud and Andreeva advance

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PARIS — Ons Jabeur got a do-over on Court Philippe Chatrier at the French Open and won this time.

A year after her first-round exit, the No. 7 seed Jabeur beat Lucia Bronzetti 6-4, 6-1 to help erase some bad memories and answer questions about a recent calf injury.

The Tunisian, a crowd favorite in Paris, smiled and expressed relief in not repeating last year’s mistake, when she lost to Magda Linette of Poland.

“I’m very happy to win my first match on Philippe Chatrier – because I’ve never won here,” Jabeur said on court about the clay-court tournament’s main stadium.

Now she can focus on trying to win her first major. She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.

The 28-year-old Jabeur has also battled injuries this season. She had knee surgery after the Australian Open, and was then sidelined with a calf injury. She had stopped playing against top-ranked Iga Swiatek at the clay-court tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, in late April and then pulled out of the Madrid Open.

“It was a very difficult period for me after Stuttgart,” said Jabeur, adding that she’s beginning to find her rhythm.

Jabeur struck 27 winner’s to Bronzetti’s seven, though with 24 unforced errors she’ll have room to improve.

Mirra Andreeva had a memorable Grand Slam debut by dominating Alison Riske-Amritraj 6-2, 6-1. Andreeva’s older sister – 18-year-old Erika – was facing Emma Navarro later in the day.

Later, Swiatek gets her French Open title defense started against Cristina Bucsa, who is ranked 70th.

On the men’s side, No. 4 seed Casper Ruud beat qualifier Elias Ymer 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to remind the higher-profile tournament favorites that he was runner-up to Rafael Nadal last year at Roland Garros.

New mom Elina Svitolina beats seeded player at French Open in 1st Slam match in 16 months

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PARIS — So much has changed for Elina Svitolina, who played – and won – her first Grand Slam match in nearly 1 1/2 years at the French Open, eliminating 2022 semifinalist Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-2.

For one thing, she’s now a mother: Svitolina and her husband, French tennis player Gael Monfils, welcomed their daughter, Skaï, in October. For another, Svitolina is now ranked 192nd, nowhere near the career high of No. 3 she first reached in 2017, back in the days when she was regularly reaching the second weeks of major tournaments – including a pair of semifinal runs. Away from the courts, her home country of Ukraine was invaded by Russia last year, and the war continues.

“Everything,” she said, “is kind of old and new for me right now.”

In sum, Svitolina is juggling a lot nowadays.

She hadn’t played at a Slam since a third-round exit at the Australian Open in January 2022. She hadn’t played a match anywhere since March 2022, when she was still ranked 20th.

“It was always in my head … to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” the 28-year-old Svitolina said.

The work to return to the tour after giving birth began this January; her initial WTA match came at Charleston, South Carolina, in April. She won her first title since returning to action, at a smaller event on red clay in Strasbourg, France.

At Roland Garros, she used her big forehand to compile a 20-12 edge in winners and never faced a single break point against Trevisan, who was seeded 26th.

Trevisan cried as she spoke after the match about a problem with her right foot that made it difficult to even walk and prompted her to stop playing during her quarterfinal last week at the Morocco Open, where she was the defending champion.

Still, she gave Svitolina credit.

“Even though she’s just coming back from having a daughter, she’s a champion,” Trevisan said. “And she’s coming off a title, so she’s confident.”

Svitolina talked about feeling “awful when you’re pregnant, especially the last months,” but getting into a position now where she thinks she’s stronger than before – in more ways than one.

“I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court and, match by match, I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental (state) can influence your physicality, as well,” she said. “I tried to find the balance, and I feel like I’m seeing (things) a little bit again differently as well after the break. Everything is getting there. The puzzles are getting slowly into place.”