Ons Jabeur is hoping her Beijing 'adventure' continues after Halep win

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Ons Jabeur’s reaction after moving into the China Open second round was understandably subdued as her opponent Simona Halep was forced to retire with a back injury while down 1-6, but the Tunisian qualifier is nevertheless pleased with her level so far this week in Beijing.

Jabeur posted two convincing victories over Olympic champion Monica Puig and Germany’s Tatjana Maria in the qualifying rounds in the Chinese capital before posting the best victory of her career by ranking against world No. 1 Halep on Sunday.

It was the Tunisian’s second top-10 win, having defeated Dominika Cibulkova at the French Open last year, and it earned her a second-round clash with in-form Croatian Donna Vekic.

“I wanted a real match, without anyone getting injured. I’m playing the world No. 1, you expect to go and scream ‘come on’, but out of respect for her, I didn’t want to act happy. Of course I was happy with the win, with the tournament in general, and hopefully I can continue winning,” said Jabeur, who almost looked sad when she walked off the court as a winner.

Halep hurt her back in Wuhan last week and was unable to recover in time for her Beijing opener. Jabeur admits she was excited when she saw she was going to face the world No. 1 and is already hoping for a rematch against a fit Halep.

“It was funny because usually when I receive the email [of the draw with qualifiers placed], I go down [scrolling], I was going down then realised my name was right at the top of the draw. I didn’t remember any of the qualifying spots except the one in front of Halep. So I was really happy, I like these kind of matches, I like playing big players, that’s where I can play my best, and hopefully next time will be a better match,” explained the 113th-ranked Jabeur.

After a mediocre first few months of the season, Jabeur started finding her game at the start of the grass season, earning a wildcard into the Wimbledon main draw by lifting a $100k title in Manchester, and reaching the second round at the All England Club. The 24-year-old then made the quarter-finals of the WTA event in Bucharest, qualified for the US Open main draw, and is now in the second round of a Premier Mandatory event as a qualifier in Beijing.

“I’m really happy with my level, it is getting better and better, I’m more aggressive,” said Jabeur.

“The conditions are a little bit difficult here, with the wind, and I don’t really like it, the balls are really heavy and they fly. But I’m happy, especially with yesterday [against Tatjana Maria], I played really well. I’m playing my best now and I hope I can play much better and the adventure doesn’t stop here.”

Halep was impressed by what she saw from Jabeur, even though the Romanian was unable to compete well from her side.

“She can hit the ball very strong. She’s playing well. I cannot analyse this match because I was not able to do anything on court. But she’s a good player,” said Halep of Jabeur.

Jabeur has had previous success in the Far East, having won titles in Japan, and she’s happy she’s tasting some degree of success now in China.

“I guess the noodles are good here,” she joked when asked to explain why she tends to play well in Asia.

Jabeur looks and sounds refreshed, even though we’re entering the final stages of a long, gruelling season. She says she felt “dead” this time last year in Asia but better scheduling this season that allowed her to take some breaks, and having her husband, Karim Kamoun, travel with her as her fitness trainer, has helped keep her motivated and upbeat this deep in the season.

The former French Open junior champion has been without her coach Bertrand Perret for over a month now as he serves a three-month suspension for an incident that occurred when he was coaching Peng Shuai last year.

During the Asian swing, Jabeur has enlisted her compatriot Issam Jellali, a Dubai-based coach and good friend of hers to help her out in China.

“We hit a lot together, whether in Dubai or when he comes to Tunisia in the summer. So he knows my game, he knows me really well. I like being around him because he’s a funny guy, I like to laugh obviously, that’s my character, and when I’m that comfortable, that’s where I play well. So I like the positive energy, I like my husband being here with me and it’s amazing,” said Jabeur.

With a return to the top-100 now within touching distance, Jabeur feels primed to make a step up to the big leagues.

“Maybe people said that to me, and I can say it, that I never got to the ranking that I deserve. Now I’m learning, not just tennis or fitness, also mentally I improved a lot and now I think I’m ready to be in the ranking that I deserve,” she concludes.

Jabeur’s second round against Vekic is scheduled fourth on the Moon Court from a 12:30pm start (Beijing time). Jabeur is 1-0 head-to-head against the Croat but they haven’t faced off since Linz 2014.

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