By Jane Voigt
Daniel Island, S.C. — For the first time in 23 years, the top four seeded women at the Credit One Charleston Open fought their way to the semifinals. This was a top-heavy tournament in a year when top women’s tennis players are consolidating more of a power base, and there is comparatively less fluidity in the top 10 than in previous seasons.
Ons Jabeur, Belinda Bencic, Jessica Pegula, and Daria Kasatkina entered as the highest four seeds, and they all reached the weekend.
The chaos existed only in connection to the weather, not the bracket.
The weather took a turn for the worse Friday night in the quarterfinals, when winds whipped and temperatures fell over ten degrees. “I was serving 1-0 in the second set,” Jessica Pegula, the top seed, said. “All of a sudden the wind shifted and the temperature dropped like ten degrees.” Pegula glanced toward her coach David Witt, with a look that said “I need to hold here because you never know what’s going to happen in these conditions.”
Pegula was tested when she first served for the match at 5-4. Her opponent, Paula Badosa (No. 12), mounted a scorching attack, throwing the set into a tiebreak. But Pegula’s calm attitude, stellar serving and consistent ground game pervaded. She tossed aside the Spaniard 6-3, 7-6 (6).
In the semifinals, Pegula took on defending champion Belinda Bencic (No. 4) while Ons Jabeur (No. 2) faced 2017 champion Daria Kasatskina (No. 3).
Pegula’s semifinal opponent, Bencic, has regularly held the upper hand in their encounters. After losing to Bencic on Sunday in a rain-delayed semifinal (7-5, 7-6), Pegula is now 0-4 against the Swiss, having never solved the Tokyo Olympic gold medalist. This was their first meeting on clay. Pegula couldn’t figure out the Bencic puzzle, but she still leaves Charleston with a career-best result at the event. She had never advanced beyond the third round in her four previous visits.
“Belinda’s a really tough matchup for me,” Pegula said. “I’ve improved a lot since the last time I played her. We have kind of similar [styles]. We hit kind of low flat [balls] and take it early. She tends to feed off my pace. She’s confident right now and the defending champ.”
“Jess is very consistent,” Bencic said. “She can do anything with the ball. She redirects very well. You always feel like she’s not even moving, but still but still she makes it look effortless.
Not against Bencic, who had the answers in a semifinal win, putting her in the final with a chance to go back-to-back in Charleston.
In the other semifinal, Jabeur beat Kasatkina 7-5, 7-5, marking the fifth straight time she has held the upper hand in the head-to-head series. This was their first meeting since the semifinals of Rome in 2022.
“Dasha and I have had a lot of three-setters together,” Jabeur said. “She’s someone that loves clay. Her game suits clay a lot.”
Jabeur admits to being a dreamer, so when she heard that Saturday’s weather was going to be rainy she said, “I’m going to call my people in Tunisia and bring the sun here. I was trying to do that the whole week. It’s working. Let’s see.”
Jabeur’s game worked well enough to deliver her to the final.
Wet weather doesn’t necessarily stop play on soft courts, but it does change the game. The tennis balls get heavy from the rain; and, they fluff up, which slows the pace of shots no matter how precisely and hard they are struck.
Kasatkina won her first career title here in 2017, when she rallied from a set down to defeat American Madison Keys. Notably, the American lost to Kasatkina on Friday in the quarterfinals.
This tournament is dear to Kasatkina: “I love the people who work here, the atmosphere, the city, everything,” she said. She knows the transition from hard to soft court play is not easy, but appreciates that the green clay helps with the change. “The green clay is something in between the red clay and the hard court. It’s [green clay] not that slippery. The bounces are a bit more equal.”
Both Jabeur and Kasatkina have had a tough spring. Injuries and poor results have hampered their confidence. Winning consecutive rounds of matches here, though, have perked up their respective outlooks.
“My confidence wasn’t on a good level, after the hard court season,” Kasatkina began. “I was a bit scared that this part of me would continue on clay. I focused on what I could control. (Friday) was a tough match. The second set was a mental battle for me; it was a very important set. It helped me for sure.”
Top players have gotten healthy in Charleston. Lots of WTA events have been graveyards for highly-seeded players, but not this week in South Carolina.