Ons Jabeur hopes to continue to flourishing under the “symbol of the warrior” after battling through a brutal third-round match against Marie Bouzkova at the US Open.
Jabeur has been struggling with illness from the outset of the tournament but raised her game after losing the opening set to win 5-7 7-6(5) 6-3 and advance to the fourth round.
Bouzkova had to contend with a persistent leg issue and the clash took on an attritional nature as the Tunisian ground her way to victory.
In the fourth game of the opening set, Jabeur held off four break points before succumbing at the fifth time of asking to hand Bouzkova a crucial advantage.
The pair went toe-to-toe from there until the eighth game, when Bouzkova had the chance to break Jabeur again and take the set.
Jabeur recovered to hold, before breaking her Czech opponent’s serve, but dropped serve again as Bouzkova took the set 7-5.
Jabeur took the early break in the second set, but was herself broken in the very next game. The world No. 5 then broke back again before holding to go 4-2 up in the second.
Bouzkova was forced to leave the court to seek treatment for her thigh injury and was seemingly close to tears as she returned. Showing visible signs of the pain she was feeling, the Czech turned to her coaching box at one stage and expressed her determination to continue.
As in the first set, there was an early set point spurned, this time by Jabeur, as she almost broke Bouzkova in the ninth game but the Czech rallied to push the set into a tie-break.
Nine points were won against serve in the tie-break as both players battled physical and mental exhaustion, but Jabeur emerged with the win to square the match at one set all.
Jabeur grabbed another early break in the third set before taking another to go 4-2 up. She held on her next game and took the match after nearly three hours on the court.
Afterwards, Jabeur explained the fight she had been required to summon to beat Bouzkova and expressed her admiration for the Czech’s own determination.
She said: “Man it was a very tough match. We both played really well. She didn’t want to stop. She’s a great player. This is a tough sport. You always don’t want to give up. I really respect her for that. I think we both had a great battle tonight, and hopefully I’ll continue getting this ‘warrior’ symbol with me during this great tournament.”
Jabeur admitted that she could hardly believe Bouzkova was carrying on with her injury at times.
She said: “At certain times I was like ‘Is she really injured?’ I wasn’t sure.”
The Tunisian will now face Chinese world No. 23 Zheng Qinwen in the next round.
Over on Court 17, British No. 1 Katie Boulter was swept aside by American Peyton Stearns 6-4 6-3 in 98 minutes.
After strong victories over Diane Parry and China’s Wang Yafan in previous rounds, Boulter had been shaping nicely but was held at arm’s length by the American 21-year-old.
Boulter faced at least two break points in each of her first three service games, dropping the second to surrender the advantage to Stearns.
While the Brit held her fourth service game to love, she was broken again in the next as her American opponent took the set.
Boulter was broken to love in the sixth game of the second set as she again faced constant pressure, even on her own serve. That game put Stearns 4-2 up and the American held again in the next game to move within sight of victory.
Stearns had match point in the following game, but Boulter held on to push the set into a ninth game. There she produced some of her best tennis, three times reaching break point, but the American proved too strong and finished out the match in style.
Boulter was seeing the positives after the match.
She said: “I wouldn’t say it was my best tennis. I think it was very competitive. I felt like I could have done a lot of things better but ultimately I gave everything I had on the day and unfortunately that is tennis. I have to learn from it and I have to get those things better. But credit to her, her forehand is one of the best on the women’s side.”
Stearns, a former NCAA college tennis champion, said afterwards that she is just trying to keep her feet on the ground.
She explained: “I don’t think I’ve wrapped my mind around the fact where I am right now, because I’m honestly trying not to think about it too much. I think that’s been the biggest key to the success this week, is not letting all of this get to my head.”
Stearns, a relative unknown, is swiftly making a name for herself at this year’s US Open.
She spoke on her rapid rise: “At the start of this year, I told myself by the end of the year I wanted to be in the top 100,” she said.
“That happened I think in March or April, so it happened pretty quickly. Then I told myself I wanted to be top 75, and that happened pretty quickly. Once I cracked that, I told myself I wanted to be top 50. Well, I just did that by winning today, well inside. Now I have to make a new goal.”
Stearns will face Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova in the next round.