MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – in draw ceremony at the end of the season WTA Final in October the presenter called Jessica Pegula in front of the room and asked the 28-year-old American about her championship at an event in Mexico a few days earlier.
He called it the “biggest title” of her career. Pegula politely corrected him, “The biggest title so far,” she said, emphasizing the last two words.
Pegula chuckled when asked about the exchange during an interview with The Associated Press.
“I didn’t mean to say it, but it’s good that I said it,” she said. “This is my biggest title so far, so it’s fact and truth – but also, hopefully, definitely not the last.”
Pegula has had a tortuous path in professional tennis. Australian Open, she hopes to add her most significant trophy. When Pegula takes to the court on Tuesday to take on 2012-2013 champion Victoria Azarenka, Pegula will appear in the quarter-finals for the third year in a row at Melbourne Park – and for the fifth time overall at a major in the last 24 months. .
Pegula No. 3 is the highest seeded woman left, with No. 1 Iga Sviatek and No. 2 Ons Jaber eliminated.
“I have a great shot here. … Throughout the tournament, I played my best,” she said on Sunday after beating 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 7-5, 6-2 in the fourth round.
Pegula relies on amazing returns (she won a tournament-record 64% of games served by opponents) and strong defense. She uses flat shots for the right and left (she has 61% of the points played at the base line, so far she is in second place).
“She plays quite simply, which I would say is a compliment,” Azarenka said, comparing this aspect of Pegula’s approach to former No. 1 Ash Barty, who “just did certain things so well, over and over and over again. ”
Pegula is 0-4 so far in the Slam quarterfinals, losing to Jennifer Brady at the 2021 Australian Open, Barty at the 2022 Australian Open and Swiatek at the 2022 French Open and 2022 US Open.
“I think I’m currently the favorite in terms of seeding,” Pegula said. – I would say that the sensations are different.
And that’s a far cry from her difficult times over the past decade. In 2013, she had a knee problem that required surgery, but she dealt with it and made her Grand Slam main draw debut at the 2015 US Open, defeating 2009 US Open quarter-finalist Melanie Udin in the last round of qualifying.
Another health setback followed: hip surgery that sidelined Pegula for over half of 2017, dropping her ranking to 860 and sending her to lower-level ITF tournaments.
She regrouped again and returned, claiming her first WTA title in Washington in 2019. This came shortly after she began working with former Venus Williams coach David Witt, who pointed out how Pegula “began to believe in herself more than she belongs. up there.”
At the Grand Slam, Pegula endured a seven-match losing streak that ended with a third-round appearance at the 2020 US Open, and five months later she made her first major quarter-final in Australia.
More moves followed — she called them “mini-breakthroughs” — including a top 10 hit last year.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I broke through’ because I didn’t have a good Slam album. Then, after that, it was… winning my first WTA tournament. It was a big event,” Pegula said. “So there are all these little… milestones, I think you could name them. I think it just kept building my confidence as I moved forward. I wouldn’t say it was some huge turning point.”
Another could happen this week: the Pegula-Azarenka winner will face whoever makes it out of the quarter-finals on Tuesday between 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and 2017 French Open champion Elena Ostapenko.
The matches of the fourth round of the lower half of the draw were scheduled for Monday: Arina Sobolenko vs. Belinda Bencic, Donna Vekic vs. Linda Fruhvirtova, Caroline Garcia vs. Magda Lynette and Carolina Pliskova vs. Zhang Shuai.
There were two sporting events in Pegula’s own calendar on Monday. At 7 a.m. local time (3 p.m. EST Sunday), the NFL team owned by her parents, the Buffalo Bills, takes on the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs—and Pegula planned to wake up early to watch.
Before playing her first round match in Melbourne, she caught part of the Bills AFC victory over the Miami Dolphins and had the number 3 patch on her skirt on a Buffalo jersey. security damar hamlinwho had a cardiac arrest while playing three weeks ago.
Then, at 2:30 pm local time (10:30 pm EST Sunday), Pegula and Coco Gauff are scheduled to play together in the third round of women’s doubles against Aldila Sutjiadi and Miyu Kato.
“I hope,” Gauff said of Pegula’s ambitions in singles, “that she wins it.”
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports