WATCH: Rybakina became the last of Chicago's semifinalists when Olympic champ Belinda Bencic was forced to retire.

There’s a concerted effort among the players contesting for the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic trophy to keep calm in the Windy City, for an even bigger prize looms on the horizon for those able to qualify for the WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

“One week can change everything,” says No. 5 seed Elena Rybakina, “so everyone is pushing, trying hard.”

Currently ranked No. 28 on the WTA Race rankings, Rybakina is under 1000 points behind those currently among the Top 8 players poised to contest the first WTA Finals in two years; her next opponent, No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur, could move up to No. 8 with a title run at the 500-level event in Chicago.

“I’m usually super tired at the end of the year, and it can be hard to find the motivation after giving it all the entire season,” Jabeur said after reaching the last eight on Thursday. “I had a big goal and it’s stressing me a lot, especially because I know many players are hungry go there. I think I made my peace with it, and if it comes, I’m happy with it. If not, it’s a sign I need to take time off court and take care of my body to be ready for next year.”

Rybakina closed out quarterfinal action on Friday with a rematch of her Olympic semifinal with eventual gold medalist Belinda Bencic.

“I remember everything from that day,” admitted the Kazakh. “There were so many emotions from the Olympics that I wouldn’t say I remember most matches as well as I remember the ones from the Olympics.

“I was trying to do my best today: serve better, and be a bit more aggressive in the important moments, especially when I’m up. The last time when I lost, I was playing too soft. I didn’t start well today, either; I didn’t have much energy. The overall level was better at the Olympics but I was still trying to push myself to serve better and turn the first set around.”


I think most players aren’t feeling that great at the end of the season, but we're all trying to push to make the Finals. Everyone has a chance and it’s pretty close. One week can change everything, so everyone is pushing, trying hard. Elena Rybakina

Up a set and a break on the No. 3 seed, Rybakina advanced when Bencic, who is ranked No. 19 in the Race, was forced to retire due to a right knee injury. It's something Rybakina attributes to the heightened stress of an improvised fall swing, one that would typically take place in Asia.

“It’s a problem with the calendar this year; it’s a bit of a mess,” Rybakina said with a smile.

“I think what happened with Belinda was not even about today’s match as much as jet lag and the combination of everything. Many players have just arrived here from Europe, so we were in America, then Europe for a few weeks. It’s not easy at all.”

With the Asian Swing—and its finale in Shenzhen—both postponed to 2022 due to COVID-19 concerns, players still have numerous chances to pick up points for Guadalajara, such that even Chicago semifinalist Marketa Vondrousova, who is currently ranked No. 38 in the Race, could vault into the Top 8 with victories in Chicago and the rescheduled BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

Vondrousova emerged out of a topsy-turvy three-setter with Danielle Collins, breaking the American as she served for the match to take a final-set tiebreaker. Former world No. 1 Garbiñe Muguruza, the only one of the final four currently ensconced in the Top 8, edged past surprise quarterfinalist Mai Hontama in straight sets.

Jabeur played some of the most impressive tennis of the day, channeling her audacious style into a nine-game winning streak over top seed Elina Svitolina, who won Chicago’s 250 event before the US Open.

The first Tunisian and Arab woman to win a WTA title earlier this season in Birmingham, Jabeur has a more pragmatic approach to punching her ticket for Guadalajara.

“I have a very positive team behind me, so we’re taking things a match at a time. I told them everything is going to be played in Indian Wells, and the big game is going to be there. Whoever plays their best there will qualify for Guadalajara.”