Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka scored a gruelling 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-5 comeback victory against No.2 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia on the opening night of round-robin play at the WTA Finals here on Tuesday (IST).
Sabalenka, the No.7 seed, took nearly two-and-a-half hours to take a 3-1 lead in her head-to-head versus this year’s Wimbledon and US Open finalist Jabeur, who is making her WTA Finals debut.
Jabeur was two points away from victory at 5-3 in the second set tiebreak, and she was also a point away from a 5-2 lead in the third set. However, Sabalenka stormed back on each occasion to collect the fourth win of her career over a player ranked inside the Top-2, according to wtatennis.com.
Sabalenka joins Greece’s Maria Sakkari as the early leaders of the Nancy Richey Group after their Day 1 wins. Sakkari topped Jessica Pegula of the US in two tiebreak sets in the day’s first singles match. The No.5-seeded Sakkari survived a pair of tough tiebreakers to defeat No.3 Pegula 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4) at Dickies Arena.
“I’m just trying to enjoy every second being here, and I’m just trying to do my best and see what the last week of the season can bring,” Sabalenka said following her upset win.
“I was just like, ‘Keep trying, keep fighting, and make sure that if she wants to win this match, she has to do something great, not like an easy win.’ And I think that’s why I put a little bit more pressure on her and in the key moments, I was able to win it,” added the Belarusian.
Making her second consecutive appearance at the WTA Finals, Sabalenka picked up a win in the group stage for the second straight season. In last year’s round-robin portion, Sabalenka defeated Iga Swiatek of Poland, but lost her two other matches to Sakkari and Paula Badosa of Spain.
Coming into Day 1, Sabalenka had lost her last three meetings against Top 10 opposition, but those had all been against Swiatek. This time, Sabalenka prevailed to collect her 19th career Top-10 win, and her first Top 10 victory on hard court since her WTA Finals triumph over Swiatek last year.
Sabalenka was in a familiar position in the match, as she played her 27th three-set match of the year, the most by any player on tour.