Ons Jabeur of Tunisia returns the ball to Vera Zvonareva of Russia during a match of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship in Dubai on Tuesday. AP
Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor
Ons Jabeur, the highest-ranked Arab player ever, outlasted wildcard Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in a thrilling first round match of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday.
The Tunisian took two hours and six minutes to overcome former world No.2 Zvonareva at the centre court and set up a second-round meeting with Jessica Pegula.
Competing in her first match after pulling out of Sydney and the Australian Open due to a back injury last month, the world No.10 made a perfect start.
Breaking her Russian rival twice, the eighth seed won the first set without breaking much sweat.
The world No. 45 bounced back in the second set and quickly established a 4-0 lead. Without giving much room, Zvonareva took the set 6-2.
In the nerve-wrecking third set, both broke each other’s serve. Zvonareva, a former Wimbledon and US Open runner-up in 2010, staged a brief rally and moved ahead 5-4, but her chances faded following two double faults.
She later dropped the serve, which helped Jabeur to wrap up the battle on her second match point.
“Very, very tough match. I tried to be focused as much as possible,” said Jabeur in her post match press conference.
“She plays well. It’s not easy to play her. Honestly, I didn’t feel many shots. I think the lack of matches didn’t help me much. I am glad that the little experience I had helped me to win this match today,” said Arab world’s top-ranked player.
The Tunisian trailblazer became the first Arab woman to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year with a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Iga Swiatek.
She also scripted history after winning her maiden WTA title by defeating Daria Kasatkina at the Birmingham Classic, making her the first Arab to win a WTA Tour event.
In December last year, Jabeur also became the first Arab to compete at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC), and later won the title at the International Tennis Centre, Zayed Sports City.