Jabeur becomes first Arab to win Mubadala World Tennis Championship

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Arab flag bearer: Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur plays a shot during her match against Belinda Bencic in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Thursday night. — Supplied photo
Arab flag bearer: Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur plays a shot during her match against Belinda Bencic in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Thursday night. — Supplied photo

Abu Dhabi - The Tunisian beats Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Belinda Bencic at the International Tennis Centre in Abu Dhabi

By Team KT

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Published: Thu 16 Dec 2021, 11:53 PM

Ons Jabeur made history in Abu Dhabi on Thursday night, becoming the first Arab to play at, and win, the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC), at the International Tennis Centre, Zayed Sports City.

Jabeur faced Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Belinda Bencic in the headline women’s match, as she came from a set down to claim a memorable 4-6, 6-3, (10-8) victory, to the delight of crowd.

Bencic looked in good touch early in the match, taking the first set 6-4. But Jabeur, who reached a career high No.7 earlier this season, showed great desire to get back in the match, targeting the Bencic backhand and racing into a 5-0 lead in set two. Bencic, though, showed why she is Olympic champion, fighting back to claim the next three games.

Jabeur refused to be denied, and immediately broke her opponent’s serve to level the match at 1-1 and into a deciding super tiebreak.

Both players showed great determination to secure the victory. Jabeur, on match point at 9-6, attempted a drop shot for victory, which had Bencic racing from the back of the court to crash a powerful cross-court winner to great applause.

The history-making Jabeur stood firm to wrap up the super tiebreak 10-8 for a memorable victory and was delighted with her performance.

“It feels amazing. Belinda plays tough and surprised me with her drop shots, so it was great to get through it. It was always a dream to play her in an Arab country to represent Tunisia and the Arab world. A real privilege. And to pick up the victory is great,” said the 27-year-old African No.1

“I want to keep breaking records, continuing my journey, and proving I’m deserving of a place in the top 10. I’m surprised at the reaction I’ve been receiving, hopefully what I’m doing can do something to help bring more Arab players into the game.”

Meanwhile, two-time Mubadala World Tennis Championship winner Andy Murray produced a masterful performance to see off compatriot Dan Evans in a Battle of Britain and set up a blockbuster semifinal with reigning champion Rafa Nadal.

The three-time Grand Slam champion came firing out of the blocks in the second match on Day 1 at the International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi, taking a 5-1 lead. British No.2 Evans claimed the next two games, but Murray held his serve to take out the first set 6-3.

Murray opened the second set with a break of serve in front of an appreciative crowd and the 2009 and 2015 champion continued to look sharp around the court with an attacking display. The inaugural MWTC winner used all his experience to power through the second set, sealing a 6-3, 6-2 victory to secure a semi-final date with Nadal, a treat for Friday’s ticketholders.

The 34-year-old was happy with his performance and is looking forward to testing himself against reigning champion Nadal in an intriguing semifinal.

“I did pretty well tonight, It’s quite a different match. These are the sort of matches I want to be playing and the reason why I am still playing is to play in events like this and hopefully to go with a good performance,” said Murray.

“I want to be playing with these guys in biggest tournaments again. Tomorrow is a good opportunity to play against him (Rafa). Last time we played was five or six years ago, it’s really been a long time, it shows the sort of struggle I have been through in the last few years. It’s nice to be playing against each other again. Events like these prepare us for the new season in the best way.”

Earlier, world No.14 Denis Shapovalov enjoyed a dream Abu Dhabi debut taking only 55 minutes to win the opening match of the Championship.

The Canadian ace proved too good for US No.1 Taylor Fritz, winning in straight sets 6-3, 6-0 to set up a semifinal clash with close friend, world No.5 Andrey Rublev on Friday.

Shapovalov broke his opponent in game seven and didn’t look back from there, racing through the remainder of the first set, before ruthlessly seeing out the match.

“It was great to get through it. Taylor is a great player and this was my first match since Stockholm (in October) so it’s good to get that match under my belt,” said Shapovalov after his victory.

“It’s been a really good season for me, and I just want to keep getting better. It’s great be here at this time of the year. I’m happy with the work I’ve been putting in. We just need to clean a few things up and get a bit more consistency.”

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