Game Ons as race to Cancun heats up

Jabeur strengthen Finals qualification chances with title in Ningbo

Ons Jabeur / US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

A last-minute decision to accept a wildcard into the Ningbo main draw paid off for Ons Jabeur as the Tunisian picked up the first hard-court title of her career and gained some valuable ground in her pursuit of a place in the WTA Finals in Cancun.

Less than 550 points separate Marketa Vondrousova, Karolina Muchova, Jabeur and Maria Sakkari in the Race to the WTA Finals, where they are positioned No.6 to No.9 respectively.

But Jabeur did her part last week in the 250-level event in Ningbo, by living up to her top seed billing and claiming maximum points to close in on Muchova and widen the gap between her and Sakkari, who lost in the Tokyo semi-finals.

After dispatching Diane Parry and Tamara Korpatsch in straight sets, Jabeur battled past Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Podoroska in three before routing unseeded teenager Diana Shnaider 6-2, 6-1 in Saturday’s final.

The victory gave Jabeur the fifth title of her career and second of the season, having triumphed on the green clay of Charleston in April.

The Tunisian, who lost her third Grand Slam final at Wimbledon over the summer, was pleased to get back to the winners’ circle and enters this week’s WTA 1000 event in Beijing with some much-needed confidence (first-round victory over Ashlyn Krueger).

“These are little steps to winning a Grand Slam final. Playing a final here is more relaxed than playing a Grand Slam final, but I think it will help me gain confidence more, and to help me manage the pressure and stress,” said Jabeur.

On her part, Shnaider can only take positives from her week in Ningbo, where she reached the first WTA final of her young career and is guaranteed a top-70 debut on Monday. The 19-year-old began her 2023 season juggling both college and the tennis tour before leaving NC State and turning pro during the summer.

Kudermetova ends drought

Meanwhile, Veronika Kudermetova snapped a four-match losing streak in finals to lift the second WTA trophy of her career and first in two and a half years with victory over Jessica Pegula in Tokyo on Sunday.

After dispatching top-seeded Iga Swiatek in the quarter-finals and battling past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a three-hour 25-minute semi-final, the eighth-seeded Kudermetova needed just 84 minutes to dismiss the fourth-ranked Pegula 7-5, 6-1 and secure the WTA 500-level title.

Kudermetova has now won five of her last six matches against top-10 opponents.

“I’m really happy because before, it was not an easy time for me, it was really tough moments. Now I’m really happy and I have a lot of motivation for the next weeks,” said Kudermetova, who was greeted by Swiss legend Martina Hingis during the trophy ceremony.