CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Belinda Bencic won three of the last four games to outlast Ons Jabeur 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 and win the Credit One Charleston Open on Sunday for her first clay-court championship.
Bencic won her sixth career WTA title and first since the Tokyo Olympic.
Bencic lost her opening match in Indian Wells last month and wasn’t sure what direction she was headed. Things began to turn in Miami where she reached the semifinals before losing and she built on that positive momentum in Charleston.
“I feel like is is the tournament that you breakthrough and then it goes the right way,” she said. “So I’m happy about it.”
Bencic, of Switzerland, reached the semifinals here in her first visit in 2014 and hadn’t advanced that far until this year. She earned $158,000 for winning the season’s opening clay-court tournament.
“It’s so cozy here,” Bencic told the crowd at the trophy presentation. “You always make this such a family event.”
Bencic, seeded 10th, looked like she’d have an easy time with Jabeur, from Tunisia, who she broke twice on the way to taking the opening set.
But Jabeur, the fourth seed ranked 10th in the world, cut down on the unforced errors and drew on the energy of the crowd, who applauded almost every move the dynamic 27-year-old made much of the week.
Jabeur held serve at 5-all in the second set before ripping a forehand to break Bencic and tie the match. Jabeur got down on one keep and pumped her fist in celebration heading to the deciding set.
But it was Bencic who regained her form to open a 3-1 lead. Jabeur had one last rally, squaring the set at three-all with her final break of Bencic’s serve.
That’s when Bencic’s smooth ground strokes and near-perfect placement wore down Jabeur. Bencic took control for good after Jabeur sent a shot long to go up 4-3.
Bencic won the final game at love, dropping to her knees and covering her face in celebration after Jabeur’s forehand sailed over the baseline.
The two shared a long hug at the net after the match. Bencic moved to 2-0 against Jabeur, both of the wins coming on clay.
Despite the loss, Jabeur had another successful run on the green clay at Charleston. She reached the semifinals of this event a year ago, then made the finals of a companion tournament here a week later.
Jabeur wasn’t thinking about the big picture. She broke out in tears at the trophy ceremony and in media interviews. This was her fifth WTA final with the only win coming in Birmingham, England last year.
“Too many emotions today,” Jabeur said. “But hopefully, I can get past this. It’s a very tough loss, I think one of the toughest of my career. But I’ll keep going, you know.”
The tournament, first played in 1973 on Hilton Head Island, celebrated its 50th year. It was the first women’s only pro tournament in the United States. It moved to its current location in 2001 and was rebranded the Credit One Charleston Open this year.
“Thank you for your support of women’s tennis,” Bencic said.
Bencic, at 25, feels more consistent and confident with her game. Where it takes her next, she’s excited to find out.
“To show that I can do it in Olympics and I can it here on the clay, it’s like a big challenge that I’ve overcome in myself and it helps me going forward,” Bencic said.
It was the first championship Sunday for the renovated Credit One Stadium after event owner Ben Navarro razed the old facility and rebuilt and expanded the venue from top to bottom. It was a renovation increased capacity from 7,000 to 11,000 seats, took two years to complete and cost approximately $50 million.
In the doubles final, Magda Linette of Poland and Andreja Klepac of Slovenia defeated Lucie Hradecka of Czech Republic and Sania Mirza of India 2-6, 6-4, 1-0 (7).
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