Very few things that Ons Jabeur has achieved in his pioneering and increasingly distinguished career have come easily or quickly. Its success has been the culmination of a slow and gradual growth, without a single step lost. The transition from his impressive youth career to the top 100 was difficult enough, and his rise since then has taken time. But it does mean that he has built a solid foundation and has rarely taken a step back.
The final step for Jabeur came earlier this summer when he reached his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon. Even though she didn’t win, it has only given her more confidence and calmness in the big moments.
All that confidence was on display as Jabeur dismantled Caroline Garcia, the in-form player of the summer, 6-1, 6-3 to reach her first US Open final and her second Grand Final Consecutive Slam She is the first Arab and African player to reach the US Open final.
“It feels more real just to be in the finals again,” Jabeur said. “At Wimbledon I was just living the dream and I couldn’t believe it. Even right after the match I was just going about my thing and not realizing it was already an incredible achievement. But now I’m just hoping that I get used to it.”
Jabeur will face the toughest challenge possible in the final, Iga Swiatek, in a match between the two best players in the world. After going down twice in a break in a tight and intense three-set semifinal, Swiatek won the last four games of a high-quality final set to defeat Aryna Sabalenka 3-6, 6-1, 6- 4. It is also her second Grand Slam final of the year, after winning the French Open, and her first career away from clay.
“I wasn’t expecting too much from myself because Aryna is a good server and I wasn’t sure if I was going to break her back,” said world No. 1 Swiatek of the third-set deficit. “But I feel like I’ve only played at an even level, so it’s great.”
Sabalenka still lives and dies by her offense, but over the past 18 months she has found a way to harness her power, hitting a career high as No. 2 last year. In New York, having addressed the service issues that have plagued him all season, he has played by far his best tennis of the year.
Despite reaching his first US Open semi-final with clear improvements after a rocky summer following the end of his 37-match winning streak, Swiatek was still searching for the confidence and level of play he commanded at the start of ‘year.
Her form reaching the semi-final was reflected in the early stages as Sabalenka’s stinging shot broke Swiatek, who struggled hard with her timing and made mistakes. But by one set, Swiatek burst into action. She cut her errors, absorbed Sabalenka’s first hit with her spectacular defense and played a clean game of tennis.
As the level rose and both players traded blows in a tense, deciding set, Sabalenka made the early moves, twice leading by a break. When he fell 2-4, however, Swiatek immediately forced his way back into the match. She locked down her game, eradicating unforced errors, absorbed Sabalenka’s first hit and went four games to win.
“I’m always hard on myself, but the last few days I’m grateful to have made it to this stage of the tournament,” she said.
By nightfall, Garcia had arrived at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the in-form player of the summer. She had won 13 straight matches, dating back to her extensive title run in Cincinnati since qualifying, her success fueled by serving at an extremely high level and suffocating her opponents with a relentless attack.
But much of Garcia’s career so far has been defined by his boss. Unlike Jabeur, Garcia has streaks and his moments of elite play have come in short bursts. It was immediately clear that he was feeling the nerves of the occasion as he dropped serve in an error-filled opening game.
Jabeur’s growing experience allowed him to handle the occasion much better. He served incredibly well, consistently hitting his spots and exposing Garcia’s advanced return positioning. He peppered Garcia with slices and changes of pace, playing disciplined tennis as he gave very little away.
Afterwards, Jabeur said it was a rare occasion when his coach, Issam Jellali, thought he had followed his plans perfectly and had nothing to say. As a result, Jabeur will return to second place after the tournament.
“I feel like this final, I’m going all out, I’m going all out,” Jabeur said. “Definitely also learning from the final in Rome, Madrid, and others. But I feel very positive about this one. The most important thing is not to regret, because in this one I will give it my all. Even if this one doesn’t happen, I’m very sure that another one will come.”
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