Sport Tennis Aussie Astra Sharma powers to first WTA title in Charleston
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Aussie Astra Sharma powers to first WTA title in Charleston

Astra Sharma triumphed at the MUSC Health Women’s Open in Charleston. Photo: AAP
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Australia has a new tennis star to savour after Astra Sharma delivered the performance of her life to battle back from a set down to beat big favourite Ons Jabeur and lift her first WTA tour title in Charleston.

Sharma, from Perth, produced a magnificent performance to belie her world ranking of 165 and lift the MUSC Health Women’s Open crown 2-6 7-5 6-1 in Sunday’s final against an opponent ranked 138 places higher than her.

The rangy Australian No.7 was outplayed in the opening set by Tunisian Jabeur, the most successful Arab player the game has seen, but took control as the match progressed with a dominant display.

The maiden triumph, in one hour 55 minutes, left Sharma almost in a state of shock as she sat at courtside contemplating her breakthrough which no one had expected at the clay court event at the start of the week.

Sharma, who was a successful recruit to Vanderbilt University in Nashville on a tennis scholarship, had previously reached a WTA final in Bogota two years ago, was an Australian Open mixed doubles finalist and part of Australia’s 2019 Fed Cup final team.

But this was an achievement of another order.

“My mind’s just blank right now – I can’t believe that’s just happened,” she said on court after her victory.

“I don’t even know what to say, I’m just so grateful to everyone who’s been behind me the whole time.”

Sharma reckoned her brilliant opponent had made her “look silly” in the opening exchanges as Jabeur seemed to pull her round the court as if she was on a string.

“I thought I just kept backing myself,” said the 25-year-old Singapore-born Sharma, when pondering what transformed the match after the 34-minute drubbing she took in the opening stanza.

“She’s obviously playing super well and I was getting wrong-footed. She was making me look a little silly and I thought I’d just try to do my best to keep things simple and try to read what I was doing.”

She did just that. While Jabeur needed treatment on her shoulder in the deciding set, she was already seriously on the back foot as Sharma’s all-court athleticism and power proved too much for her.

Even though her legs and arms were heavily strapped, Sharma used her extra fitness and long levers to defend expertly and chase down everything, including the crafty Jabeur drop shots which had been doing such damage early on.

In a tight second set, Sharma began to take the initiative and as it came to its denouement with Jabeur serving at 6-5 down, she produced her best tennis.

At set point, not only did she manage to furiously chase down a Jabeur drop shot but also responded with a flicked short ball of her own which left the Tunisian stranded.

In the decider, Sharma again looked the fitter player and Jabeur, who had struggled with a gastric issue in the semi-final, seemed to flag and had to call for the trainer at 2-1 down, complaining of a right shoulder and upper arm problem.

There was also a ruthlessness about Sharma, as she reeled off the last four games.

“This gives me huge confidence,” she said, looking towards the European clay court season with her ranking set to shoot up 45 places to 120.

“Not just this win, it’s the whole week, back-to-back consolidated wins. The level of play from me was great all week, so I’m so happy.”

Earlier, the Australian pairing of Ellen Perez and Storm Sanders had been beaten 6-7 (7-4) 6-4 [10-6] by the US duo Hailey Baptiste and Caty McNally in the doubles final.

-AAP