It Had To Be Ons Jabeur’s Day In Charleston - UBITENNIS
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It Had To Be Ons Jabeur’s Day In Charleston



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CHARLESTON, S.C. — What can you do when your opponent has the kind of day that Ons Jabeur had in Sunday’s final of the WTA Tour’s Charleston Open?


“You know, like even the point she played like between her legs. Like what can I do?,” Belinda Bencic said about her 7-6 (6) 6-4 loss to Jabeur and the shot by Jabeur that was perhaps the “shot of the year” in women’s tennis.

That shot played a significant role in Jabeur’s victory that helped the Tunisian climb to No. 4 in the world in the new WTA Tour rankings and gain revenge for her loss to Bencic in last year’s Charleston Open championship match.


The scene was almost like watching something in Fantasy Land. It was that surreal.

Jabeur had a break point against Bencic’s serve that if executed could deadlock the first set at 5-5, and Bencic was set up for a shot near the net that looked like it would be a sure winner.

But then Bencic hit a shot right in the middle of the baseline. Jabeur looked helpless.

 “I honestly thought I was going to lose the point,” Jabeur said. “I saw her coming with her backhand  . . . and I’m like I’m done . . . I think she chose like the safer side. I reacted very fast. I saw the ball coming at me.”

Jabeur jumped in the air and put the racket behind her. She made contact with the ball between her legs, sending it back toward Bencic at the net. Totally surprised, Bencic put together a weak forehand volley that sailed too high toward Jabeur’s backhand near the sideline. Jabeur hit a backhand that crossed the net past Bencic’s backhand side at the net for a winner.


Suddenly, the match was deadlocked at 5-5. And the fans went wild.

“I was surprised that she didn’t anticipate on the cross, because that’s where I usually play my shots. But I think I was lucky and creative with that shot, which was amazing, and it changed up the game a bit, I think, for the first set, for sure,” Jabeur said.

The point pretty much set the stage for the rest of the match, as Bencic didn’t appear to be the same after that. She appeared to be more defensive with her shots, and her serves lost some of their zest.

The two players split the remaining two games, although Bencic had to save five set points in game 12 to push the set into a tiebreaker. Bencic even held a 6-4 lead in the tiebreaker, but Jabeur won four consecutive points, the last two with sizzling forehands cross-court to Bencic’s forehand corner that hit the sideline to close out the first set.

Bencic couldn’t believe it, even though the chair umpire got down and looked at both marks on the green clay. She was given a code warning for the first one for throwing her racket down on the line.


Bencic also was a little unhappy about having only a short time to prepare for Jabeur’s tricky  game after having to complete her semifinal match from Saturday night against Jessica Pegula at midday Sunday.

“I had like 15 minutes to think about what’s I’m going to do (against Jabeur), and I still had the stress from Jess’ match,” said Bencic, a 5-9, 26-year-old whose game was modelled by Hingis’ mother/coach Melanie Molitor.

Bencic lost a little of her fight in the second set and quickly fell behind, 4-1. The feisty Swiss star got back to 5-4 and earned one break point in the decisive game while rallying from a 5-40 deficit. But then Bencic sent a backhand down the line that didn’t find the playing court.


What about the trophy? “I’m sleeping with it. I’m kicking my husband out of the bed and sleeping with the trophy tonight,” Jabeur said.
“I’ve wanted  to win this tournament for a long time. This is a pretty good start to the clay season. I don’t want to stop here. I want to continue to do more. Definitely I’m happy, and probably will celebrate for one day and then get back to training and get back to hopefully winning more matches.”


This tournament has been one of the best for a long time, going all of the way back to the 1970s on Hilton Head Island to Sea Pines Plantation when it was known as the Family Circle Cup. It was known as a tournament that produced many champions who almost immediately captured their first Grand Slam title when they travelled to Europe.

Some of those stars who won this tournament and then almost immediately won Grand Slam events included Steffi Graf, who went from winning back-to-back Family Circles in 1986 and 1987 to winning the 1987 French Open and completed the Grand Slam itself in 1988.

Or Justine Henin-Hardenne who won this tournament in 2003 on Daniel Island and then went to France to win her first Grand Slam event.

Mary Pierce won the last tournament at Hilton Head Island in 2000, then took off for Europe where she won her only major at the French Open.

Conchita Martinez took the Hilton Head title in 1994, then won Wimbledon the same year. 

Even Chris Evert won one of her many Hilton Head titles in 1974, and turned around and won her first of many majors a couple months later at the French Open.

Tracy Austin did much the same in 1979 by winning at Hilton Head and then getting her first major title at the U.S. Open.


Of course, all of the great ones played in and won in the earlier version of the tournament, including the likes of Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova as well as Martina Hingis, and Venus and Serena Williams and others.

With all of that in mind, Ons Jabeur is capable of capturing her initial Grand Slam title in just a couple of months in Paris. The Tunisian is definitely talented enough to make that happen.

Barring a red-hot return by Iga Swiatek, Jabeur may indeed be the player to beat in Paris.

Getting over the hump on Sunday in Charleston should make Ons even a better player.


Bencic was finishing her second match of the day. It took just six points on Sunday in a tiebreaker for Bencic to complete a 7-5, 7-6 (5) win over top seed Jessica Pegula. That was to complete a semifinal match that started on Saturday afternoon, and ended up in a late-night storm that turned the stadium court surface into a muddy clay field.

The rainstorm really did a job on Pegula. She wasn’t herself. The net got in the way of her backhand too often.

“She (Pegula) is the most consistent player on tour,” Bencic said. “She is playing every tournament. She has an incredible baseline game.
“Maybe the conditions were so heavy we had a lot of weird rallies. “I’m really happy I played a good match and that I kinda adapted to the conditions.”


On the slow wet court, Daria Kasatkina was almost helpless in the semifinals. She couldn’t put the ball away. Ons Jabeur was patient, knowing that Kasatkina couldn’t hit the ball past her. She played around with Kasatkina until she saw a clear opening on the other side of the court.

Jabeur then turned on the power to hit forehards and backhands to the open court.

Jabeur was just too powerful off the ground for former champion Kasatkina of Russia in a 7-5, 7-5 semifinal win at midday Saturday.

The match had major turns in each set. Kasatkina used her heavy top-spin and movement to jump out to a 5-2 lead in the first set, but didn’t win another game in the set.

Kasatkina was ahead 5-3 (15-15) when rain forced a lengthy delay in the first set. 

Kasatkina actually had a double set point in the ninth game of the first set, but Jabeur won four straight points to close to 5-4. The Tunisian lost only two points in the next three games to close out the first set.

The second set was nearly a reversal of the first set as Jabeur took a 5-3 lead, only to see Kasatkina win the next two games before Jabeur recovered to take the last two games to advance to the final for the second straight year.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at 

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