Ons Jabeur keeps Arab flag flying high with win over Alison Riske at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Tunisian's next opponent is top seed Simona Halep in second round
Ons Jabeur treated Centre Court to some deafening drama on Monday night as the Tunisian wildcard moved into the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The Australian Open quarter-finalist, who created history last month by becoming the first Arab woman to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam, saw off American Alison Riske 7-6, 1-6, 6-3 – much to the delight of what felt a partisan “home” crowd.
When it was put to her afterwards that it at times sounded like a football match, Jabeur joked: “I always do that. Reminds me I should be maybe a football player, not a tennis player... sometimes."
Yet she added: "Sometimes it bothers me because they didn't really know the rules. They clap on a double-fault. I hope Alison is not really [annoyed] about that. I apologised at the end, I had to.
“Tunisian crowds are known for football. They would think they were in Russia back in the World Cup.”
Jabeur, 25, took the first set on a tie-break, but struggled through the second as Riske threatened to dampen the mood. However, her opponent rallied in the decider, breaking in the eighth game before closing out the match in just over two hours.
“She's such a fighter,” Jabeur said. “We know that all the players who fight like this, it's tough to win against them. She didn't give me any easy balls at the beginning, so I had to go and win my point."
The challenges don’t get any easy, though. On Wednesday, Jabeur meets Simona Halep, the two-time Grand Slam champion and 2015 winner of the tournament. The No 1 seed this week, Halep received a first-round bye.
“I was really pumped from the beginning to see the schedule, the draw and everything,” Jabeur said. “[It's] the second time I'm going to play her. Well, the first time really doesn't count; she was injured. But hopefully it's going to be a great match. She's a great inspiration for many players. I'm lucky enough to play her.”
Earlier on Centre Court, former finalist Barbora Strycova also came through three sets, defeating Amanda Anisimova 7-6, 2-6, 6-4.
The Czech seemed destined to be heading out of the tournament despite taking the opening set, finding herself 3-1 down in the third against the resurgent American.
To her credit, Strycova displayed significant resolve to fight back and clinch the match, dropping only four points in the final three games. She now faces either Croat Petra Martic or Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan.
“It wasn’t really a great match from both sides,” Strycova said. “It’s really tough conditions over here and the ball is flying everywhere. But I was really happy to keep the ball in the court. It was a really tough match for me and I’m very happy to be in the second round.”
Updated: February 17, 2020 08:25 PM