Ons Jabeur upsets Sloane Stephens to reach biggest quarter-final of her career in Moscow

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Another big scalp: For Ons Jabeur.

Tunisian qualifier Ons Jabeur reached the first Premier-level quarter-final of her career by taking down world No. 8 Sloane Stephens in straight sets at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow on Wednesday.

It was Jabeur’s third top-10 victory of her career, and second in her last three tournaments, after she beat world No. 1 Simona Halep 6-1, ret. in Beijing earlier this month.

Playing her fifth match in Moscow in as many days, Jabeur knocked out the third-seeded Stephens 6-3, 6-2 in 62 minutes.

The 24-year-old converted four of the six break point opportunities she created against Stephens, winning an impressive 48 per cent of her return points.

Mixing up her powerful groundstrokes with some signature drop shots, Jabeur outplayed the 2017 US Open champion, who committed 24 unforced errors against just 11 winners.

“I’m really happy, especially after many matches I played in here. Moscow is great to me, hopefully I can continue playing this way and maybe do my best in this tournament,” said Jabeur, who finished the contest with 24 winners off of her racquet.

“I want to thank all Tunisians who are here, I’m really happy, it feels like home. Also I want to thank the Russian fans, they’ve been supporting since the beginning of the tournament. I’m trying to learn some Russian now and hopefully by the end of the tournament I’ll be speaking good,” added Jabeur, whose husband and fitness trainer, Karim Kamoun, is half-Russian.

The pair exchanged breaks early in the first set before Jabeur broke again and consolidated for a 4-1 lead. She maintained her advantage and secured a one-set lead in 33 minutes.

Jabeur broke to start the second set and went up a double-break with a brilliant down-the-line winner to edge ahead 5-2. She served out the match in the next game and moved into the last-eight when a forehand from Stephens sailed long.

The Arab No. 1 next takes on recent Wuhan runner-up Anett Kontaveit, who overcame a second-set deficit to defeat Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 7-6(3). Jabeur looked in pain during the match against Stephens, as a sudden movement appeared to have caused a problem in her back but the Tunisian is hopeful it is nothing serious.

“I’m going to see after with my physio, but hopefully nothing is serious. Maybe it’s from the fatigue from all the matches I played. It was a sudden move, so hopefully some good stretching will help me feel better for my next match,” she said.

Jabeur, ranked 101 this week, is expected to hit a new career-high ranking following the conclusion of the tournament on Monday. She will rise at least 20 spots.

Meanwhile, Stephens will head straight to Singapore where she will appear in the WTA Finals for the first time. The American has won just two matches in four tournaments since reaching the quarters at the US Open last month.

She booked her ticket to the season finale in Singapore after a decent 2018 that saw her win Miami and reach the finals at the French Open and Montreal.

Later in the day, Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova completed the top-eight field qualified for the WTA Finals in Singapore after the latter and Kiki Bertens both lost their second-round matches in Moscow on Wednesday to Vera Zvonareva and Aliaksandra Sasnovich respectively.

Svitolina and Pliskova join Halep, Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Stephens in the tournament’s final staging in Singapore before it moves to its new home in Shenzhen next year.

With Halep’s participation in question due to her herniated disk injury, Bertens might still end up qualifying if the Romanian withdraws.

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