Fixture: (4) Aryna Sabalenka vs (15) Ons Jabeur
Date: 10 January 2021
Tournament: Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open 2021
Round: Third round (Round of 16)
Venue: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Category: WTA 500
Surface: Outdoor hardcourt
Prize money: $565,530
Match timing: 10 am local time, 11.30 pm IST
Live telecast: USA - ESPN / Tennis Channel
Aryna Sabalenka vs Ons Jabeur preview
The Belarusian hasn't made the cleanest of starts to the 2021 season, but has still managed to navigate her way to the Round of 16. In the first round, she trailed the 49th-ranked Polona Hercog for much of the first set before rebounding for a 7-6(5), 6-2 win.
Aryna Sabalenka's second-round face-off with World No. 68 Ajla Tomljanovic was a similarly topsy-turvy affair. The World No. 10 raced out of the blocks to lead 4-0, but couldn't sustain her momentum. Tomljanovic came roaring back into the set, leveling the score at 4-4, before Sabalenka eventually regrouped for a 7-5, 6-4 win.
The two victories extended the Ostrava and Linz champion's winning streak to 11. But she would need to do more against an opponent as tricky as Ons Jabeur.
The Tunisian had a breakthrough 2020, becoming the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinal of a Major. Jabeur showed exceptional consistency throughout the season, making as many as five appearances in the last eight stage of tournaments.
Her efforts were rewarded with an entry into the top 35; she is currently perched at a career-high No. 31.
Ons Jabeur has brought her renewed self-belief into Abu Dhabi too. Although still a bit rusty, the 26-year-old has managed to reach the Round of 16 with some typically hard-fought performances.
Jabeur kicked off her campaign with a gritty 7-6(3), 6-3 win over the feisty Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. In the second round, she dropped the first set to Kateryna Bondarenko. However, the Ukrainian qualifier's joy was short-lived as Jabeur soon got back her rhythm to close out a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Aryna Sabalenka vs Ons Jabeur head-to-head
Ons Jabeur holds a 1-0 lead over Aryna Sabalenka in the head-to-head record, having won their solitary meeting at Roland Garros last year.
The Tunisian edged Sabalenka in the first-set tie-break before the Belarusian came back to set up a decider. But Jabeur eventually used her finesse and variety to secure a 7-6(7), 2-6, 6-3 win.
Aryna Sabalenka vs Ons Jabeur prediction
This match will pit one of the hardest hitters on the WTA tour against one of the most versatile artists. Aryna Sabalenka will have to be wary of Ons Jabeur's trickery on the court, especially since she is yet to play a straightforward match this week.
While the Belarusian is clearly superior in the power department, Jabeur has the skills to use that to her advantage - as we saw at Roland Garros last year. That said, the Tunisian herself hasn't been at her best in the first tournament of the year, which could give Sabalenka a chance to avenge her defeat.
Besides, the 2020 Doha champion has been on an impressive winning streak of her own, and should be inspired to stretch it further.
Prediction: Aryna Sabalenka to win in three sets.Published 09 Jan 2021, 20:36 IST