The Washington Post

Jabeur cruises into U.S. Open final, faces Swiatek for first major title

- BY AVA WALLACE

new york — On Tuesday, after a late night at the U.S. Open, Ons Jabeur witnessed a funny thing. Someone had sent her a video of folks watching sports in her native Tunisia, a North African nation of 12 million that counts itself as soccer-mad.

Only the television was not showing the Champions League match between Paris Saint- Germain and Juventus, as expected. It showed her quarterfin­al win.

“Surprised, to be honest with you,” she said.

Jabeur will be filling screens again Saturday after steamrolli­ng a red-hot Caroline Garcia, 6-1, 6-3, on Thursday in the semifinals of the U.S. Open to reach her second Grand Slam final in two months. She will meet top-seeded Iga Swiatek, who rallied to beat Aryna Sabalenka, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Jabeur fell in her first Grand Slam final, at Wimbledon to Elena Rybakina, cracking under the nerves and heavy pressure she felt after making history as the first Tunisian, the first African woman and the first Arab woman to make a major final. Wimbledon, with all that, felt like a dream.

Flushing Meadows feels like reality.

“At Wimbledon . . . I couldn’t believe it. Even just after the

match, I was just going to do my things and not realizing it was an amazing achievemen­t already,” Jabeur said. “But now just I hope I’m getting used to it, you know, just happy the fact that I backed up the results in Wimbledon and people are not really surprised I’m in the finals. But just going and going and just doing my thing.”

On Saturday, she will face Swiatek, who earned her 20th win in the majors this season by rallying from a set down and a break down in the third set.

The 21-year-old from Poland picked up her second French Open trophy in June and has shown, in the past three rounds, the grit and problem solving that helped her capture six tour titles this season.

“You know, Iga never loses finals,” Jabeur said with a smile.

For Jabeur, the loss at Wimbledon was a lesson in self-belief and managing her emotions. Her time at the All England Club was such a fantasy it took her a while to realize she was the one powering the run. When she got to the finals, she didn’t feel rooted, didn’t go as big as she wanted. Her emotions got in the way.

“Especially when I talk to my coach before the matches, I just feel like now I can do whatever I can do and what I want to do on the court, which is surprising for me, and I surprise myself so many times. It’s going very well, especially this tournament,” Jabeur said. “Hopefully I will keep doing that. Managing my stress, emotions also helps me to do whatever I want on the court, for sure.”

If Jabeur was stressed Thursday, there was no sign of it. She was so efficient that fans were still taking their seats when she won the first set — in just 23 minutes.

The 28-year-old felled one of the hottest players on tour in 66 minutes total. Garcia carried a 13-match winning streak into the semifinal and hadn’t dropped a set at the U.S. Open.

In those matches, she lost just three service games.

But on Thursday, as Jabeur could understand, her nerves consumed her from the start. The match was Garcia’s first Grand Slam semifinal, and she spent her time between points gulping big puffs of air or furrowing her brow in consternat­ion.

A cornerston­e of Garcia’s aggressive game is she stands well inside the baseline to return, better for taking the ball early and jumping down her opponents’ throats. Jabeur avoided the issue by channeling her idol Andy Roddick — whom she finally met a day earlier at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center — and rifling off six aces in the first set. She had eight in the match.

“I didn’t know — should I shake his hand? Hug? I don’t know!” Jabeur said. “But I went for the hug, of course. I told him I was going to fire my team because they all met him and I didn’t meet him yesterday. . . . I was going to ask him about the serve, but then I forgot. I think he gave me the touch somehow.”

She has less than two days now to prepare for a second Grand Slam final, and Jabeur plans to use the time thinking about her first. She will replay how she managed her emotions and what she might to better this time. She will follow her team’s tactical strategy better than she did in July, perhaps, after she received such good advice about avoiding Garcia’s forehand.

“The most important thing is accept that I’m playing a big final and accept all the emotions that are going to come my way,” Jabeur said. “. . . With the way I’m playing, I feel like it’s going to be great final for me.”

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