By Jane Voigt
Daniel Island, S.C. – Ons Jabeur turned the tables on Belinda Bencic Sunday in the final of the Credit One Charleston Open, defeating the defending champion in a rematch of last year’s final. In the tournament’s 51-year history, this was the first time that two women have played in back-to-back singles championship matches.
“Thank you to the fans here. You are amazing. I plan to be back,” Jabeur said on court, winning 7-6 (6), 6-4. This is the Tunisian’s first title of the year, which will return her to No. 4 in the world on Monday.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Bencic said on court, smiling. “It’s amazing when you’re playing [but] it’s a pain to play against you.”
Earlier on Sunday, Bencic and Jessica Pegula finished their semifinal match, which was called Saturday evening due to rain. Bencic had the edge, having won the first set 7-5, but the players left the court with Pegula up 4-2 in the second-set tiebreaker.
“Really tough circumstances for them,” Lindsay Davenport said, calling the match for Tennis Channel. At least the conditions had improved, making play “less heavy.”
When the match resumed, Bencic was able to turn the tide in the tiebreaker. Within a few minutes, Bencic prevailed, sending her to the final. “I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare (for the final against Jabeur),” Bencic said. “I had like fifteen minutes to think about what I’m going to do and still I carried the stress from Jess’s match. I had to be careful not to be too loose and just stay focused.
Entering the final, Jabeur and Bencic were tied 2-2 in head-to-head matches. They played three times last year, Bencic winning in Charleston and Jabeur beating her in Madrid and Berlin. “It’s tough to beat her,” Bencic began. “She’s a high-quality player. When I’m playing my best I press her and push her. But today she moved very good and attacked well.”
“Playing Belinda is always tricky,” Ons said. “I didn’t play someone that plays like her [this week]. Adopting to that game was difficult. Hanging in there and not getting angry was part of it [the win]. I’m really glad I maintained calm and stuck to the plan, to do what I was supposed to do during the match.”
Bencic’s game didn’t resemble other women Jabeur faced this week because “She doesn’t give you time, which is not great for most players, and not great when you’re moving on clay because you never know where the ball is coming. She goes for a lot of winners, too. She serves well and goes for her shots. That’s what makes Belinda Belinda.”
At 3-5 in second set and poised to break Bencic’s serve, Jabeur pulled the proverbial rabbit out of a hat. Bencic approached the net and stuck a shot at Jabeur’s feet. Jabeur jumped and hit a shot between her legs, a front-facing tweener. Jabeur said later, “I thought the point was over.” Not so fast. Jabeur slid just behind the baseline, feathering a severely angled cross-court slice past Bencic for the winner. Fans had been favoring Jabeur, but that point sent them to the moon. Everyone was on their feet cheering.
“I saw her going with her backhand and [I thought] I’m done,” Jabeur said, about the point. “Then she hit at me. I reacted fast; I saw the ball coming. I was like, okay, I’m just going to give her one more ball and see. I’m surprised she didn’t anticipate the cross because that’s where I usually play my shots. I think I was lucky and creative with that shot, though.”
Jabeur was appreciative of all the support she received here.
“I’m happy to be part of the champions here in Charleston,” Jabeur said. “The crowd, they’re amazing, and not just amazing but for other tournaments as well. They told me that they watch the Netflix show [Breakpoint]. So that’s amazing that I have support not just for one tournament, but the whole season.”
As happy as she was about her victory, she looked weary. “Honestly I’m really tired from all the matches but we’ll take the time [to celebrate] in Paris or when I go back home.” She said she was excited to see her family and nephew in Paris, who was “just born like three weeks ago.” She pointed at her trophy, which was sitting on the dias, adding “This is his gift.”
In the doubles portion of the tournament, Danielle Collins and Desirae Krawczyk defeated the top-seeded team on Guiliana Olmos and Ana Shebahara, 0-6, 6-4, 14-12. This was Collins’s first tour doubles title and Krawczyk’s eighth. Their comeback from a set and a break down to become Charleston doubles champions seemed to mirror their prior matches from the week. They won all of them in tiebreaks.
“We were down 6-0, 3-1, today” Collins began. “To be able to come back from that… I think one of the things we do so well is we play together as a team, and because we’re so close and such good friends, like we rely so much on each other emotionally.”
Although Collins downplayed her doubles ability, she added that “We’ll definitely team up again.” Considering the dominance of Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff in doubles, having another all-American team throw their hats in the arena strengthens the country’s tennis presence.
“This is a really good time for American tennis,” Collins said. “We have a lot of really strong doubles players going into Billie Jean Cup next week; and, we have some great players coming up on the men’s side, too.”
As tennis moves from the spring hard courts of America, most players prepare to take on the red clay of European tournaments over the next six weeks.
“This is a pretty good start to the clay season,” Jabeur said. “I don’t want to stop here. I want to continue to do more.”