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No longer content as “co-pilot”, Jabeur wants to take the wheel against Swiatek in Rome
After saving match point against Daria Kasatkina to reach her second WTA 1000 final, the Tunisian will put her own double-digit win streak on the line when she meets the world No. 1.
Published May 14, 2022
WATCH: Ons Jabeur defeats Daria Kasatkina in the 2022 Rome semifinals
In any other circumstance, Ons Jabeur’s double-digit win streak and back-to-back WTA 1000 finals would be the clay-court performance dominating the headlines. Coming into the Internazionali BNL d’Italia after winning the biggest title of her career in Madrid and reaching the final in Charleston, there’s a short list of players who are hotter than the Tunisian at the moment.
That list begins and ends with world No. 1 Iga Swiatek—and that’s exactly who Jabeur will face in the championship match. Jabeur will be aiming to halt her opponent’s own win streak at 27 matches and prevent Swiatek from lifting a fifth consecutive trophy.
The world No. 7 joked earlier in the week that she feels a bit like Swiatek’s co-pilot, content to let her take center stage while Jabeur continues to notch career-best feats in the background. In Rome, the Tunisian claimed her first Top 5 win on clay after coming back from 6-1, 5-2 down to stun No. 4 Maria Sakkari, and then on Saturday she saved match point against a resurgent Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 to extend her win streak to a personal-best 11 in a row.
Can she make it 12 on Sunday? Now that she’s finally had a taste of WTA 1000-level success, Jabeur will no longer be content with playing second fiddle to anyone—even the world’s top-ranked player.
“Tomorrow the plane will crash and there is only one life jacket. I hope I take it,” Jabeur joked in her post-semifinal press conference. “I'm the co-pilot, though. There is no priority there.”
Playing in her seventh career final—and her second in as many weeks—Jabeur will face a mental battle as much as a physical and tactical test on Sunday.
Swiatek has yet to drop a set in Rome, and she’s the fresher player after taking a week off and withdrawing from Madrid to rest her shoulder. While Jabeur was exorcizing demons with emotional victories over Simona Halep and Belinda Bencic on her way to the title, Swiatek toured the Rafa Nadal Museum and enjoyed a “micro-training block” at his academy before landing in the Italian capital.
“I know that mental could overcome a lot of things,” Jabeur said. “Playing Iga, someone who didn't lost a match since ever, I think what was maybe missing [is] the other players to believe more that they can beat her. She was playing unbelievable in Miami-Indian Wells. Now she's playing great.
“She's a human being. People should know that.”
Jabeur, who owns a 2-1 lead in the head-to-head over Swiatek, would know this better than most players. But even she has yet to meet this ‘new’ Swiatek, who confounds opponents by taking the ball early and patrolling the baseline, and has embodied her world No. 1 ranking by doling out lopsided victories. Jabeur won their most recent two meetings last year, on the hard-courts of Cincinnati and the lawns of Wimbledon—it’s their first meeting on clay.
A win would make Jabeur the third woman to win back-to-back Madrid and Rome titles since Dinara Safina in 2009 and Serena Williams in 2013. It would also mark her biggest win-by-ranking in a completed match: Jabeur famously claimed a win over world No. 1 Simona Halep as a qualifier ranked outside the Top 100, but the Romanian retired before the second set of their 2018 Beijing clash.
“I'm ready for the battle. I want to win tomorrow. It's the finals. It's not a first round or second round, it's the final,“ she said on Saturday. “Did I tell you how sick I am of losing finals?
“Plus, I had my first baby in Madrid,” she added with a chuckle. “You know how much I love twins, so... It's the brother or sister, Rome.”