Tennis

Sharma overcomes Jabeur in Charleston to claim first WTA singles title

Astra Sharma of Australia staged an impressive comeback Sunday to win her first WTA singles title, upsetting No.1 seed Ons Jabeur 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the MUSC Health Women’s Open final.

"To come out of this with a win, it’s really unexpected, it’s amazing for me, I have no words," Sharma told the press after her win. "It hasn’t really sunk in that I won, I’m so happy."

Sharma, ranked World No.165, fought back from a lopsided opening set to outlast the 27th-ranked Tunisian in just under two hours and become the sixth player this season to win their first title. Sharma had made one previous final at 2019 Bogota, where she lost to Amanda Anisimova.

"There’s so many weeks where you come so close, and it’s rare to finally end a week on a win," Sharma said. "Two years ago in Bogota, when I was so close, the nerves got the better of me.

"This time, I was a lot more calm and just held my nerve really well. Especially with Ons playing such high-level tennis in the first, I thought I did well to just reset in the second and just keep making her come up with the same shots."

The victory was made even sweeter as the comeback also resulted in Sharma’s best win by ranking. She had played only two previous matches against Top 30 opposition and lost on both of those occasions.

Sharma, 25, a collegiate standout on the Vanderbilt team which won the NCAA national championship in 2015, dominated in the latter stages of the match, winning 61 percent of return points in the final set to complete the turnaround.

"I thought Ons played an amazing first set," Sharma said. "I didn’t know, really, what to do. She was wrong-footing me, she was drop-shotting me, she was making me cover a lot of court, and I really couldn’t read what she was doing.

"I think in the second set, I managed to get a little sniff here and there. And by the third set, it was hot, humid, and I think I was a little bit more energetic than her and my intensity was still the same, so I think that was what eventually gave me the lead."

As the match kicked off, Jabeur made her intentions known early by holding for 1-1 with one of her signature dropshots. The top seed kept mixing lobs and passes in with powerful groundstrokes to earn two quick breaks and open up a 5-1 lead. Jabeur closed out the one-set lead two games later, slamming 13 winners and never facing a break point during that timeframe.

Sharma, though, surged into contention in the second set, finally claiming her first break points at 2-1 and converting for a 3-1 lead after a winner off the netcord. Jabeur, though, struck back with a passing winner to give her double break point in the subsequent game, then pulled back on serve right away after a wide error by Sharma.

The duo held serve from there through 6-5, where Jabeur had a 40-15 lead to send the set into a tiebreak. But Sharma played her best ball at that very moment, knocking off four points in a row to break Jabeur for the second time and swipe the set from the No.1 seed. Sharma finished off the set by out-drop shotting Jabeur in an all-court rally, as the match moved to all square.

Sharma had fully turned the momentum in her favor as the third set got underway, and after an early exchange of breaks in the decider, the Australian eased through the rest of the match, winning the final four games. A love service hold sealed the deal as an elated Sharma celebrated her first WTA singles title.

Earlier on Sunday, the all-American pairing of Hailey Baptiste and Caty McNally captured the MUSC Health Women's Open doubles title with a 6-7(4), 6-4, [10-6] upset of the No.1-seeded Australians Ellen Perez and Storm Sanders.

The 19-year-olds needed 95 minutes to complete their own comeback and prevent an all-Aussie sweep of the titles Sunday. In the decisive match-tiebreak, the young Americans charged ahead to a commanding 6-1 lead, then held on from there to clinch the closely-contested victory.

For Baptiste, it was a breakthrough at WTA level, claiming her first WTA doubles title in her first-ever final. Meanwhile, McNally improved to 3-0 in WTA doubles finals. Her two previous titles came in 2019 alongside Coco Gauff at Washington, D.C. and Luxembourg.

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