Ons Jabeur becomes first North African, Arab woman to WTA tournament final

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Tunisian qualifier Ons Jabeur became the first Arab and African player to reach a WTA tour tournament final on Friday, and she will next face Daria Kasatkina for the Kremlin Cup title.

The 101st-ranked Jabeur is now guaranteed to surpass the previous best ranking by a woman from an Arab country. Another Tunisian, Selima Sfar, reached No. 75 in 2001.

In Saturday’s final, Jabeur can become the first WTA champion from an African country since South Africa’s Chanelle Scheepers in 2011.

Jabeur, the 2011 junior champion at the French Open, beat 11th-ranked Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the semifinals.

Playing her seventh match in as many days after coming through qualifying, Jabeur twice was down a break in the third set before breaking Sevastova at love to take a 5-3 lead.

“It’s unbelievable,” the 24-year-old Jabeur said of her run. “I’m not just playing for myself. I’m also playing for my country. This is really important for me.”

Jabeur upset higher-ranked opponents this week. Against Ekaterina Makarova in the first round, she didn’t immediately realize she’d won and moved to serve again as Makarova went to shake hands.

Jabeur followed up by beating former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and Anett Kontaveit.

Kasatkina, ranked 14th, beat British player Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-3 to advance, helped by landing 77 percent of first serves.

Since winning her first final in April 2017, Kasatkina has lost three in a row, including at last year’s Kremlin Cup.

Kasatkina said Jabeur’s “mixed-up” style and love of drop shots, made her a tricky opponent.

“I don’t know what to expect from her. I don’t think she knows what to expect from her either,” she said. “She plays really interesting tennis.”

Jabeur joked she’s looking for “revenge” against Kasatkina after the Russian knocked her out of the 2016 Olympics.

In the men’s draw, Andreas Seppi reached the semifinals in his bid for a first title since the 2012 Kremlin Cup. The Italian veteran upset fourth-seeded Filip Krajinovic of Serbia 6-4, 7-6 (2).

Seppi will next face Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, who beat Belarusian qualifier Egor Gerasimov 7-6 (3), 6-3.

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