WASHINGTON, August 5, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Unheralded and under the radar of American tennis thanks to a plethora of injuries, Jessica Pegula cried tears of joy after winning her first career WTA singles title at the Citi Open in northwest Washington, D.C., on Sunday. She couldn’t help it.
Pegula, a 25-year-old Buffalo, N.Y. native whose parents own the NHL Buffalo Sabres and NFL Buffalo Bills, defeated No. 62 Camila Giorgi of Italy, 6-2, 6-2, at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center on an 86-degree, party cloudy day. After hitting her second ace of the afternoon on match point for the victory, she found herself standing all alone while the plaudits from an appreciative crowd started to ramp up.
No longer was Pegula a forgotten American. Instead, she was someone.
“You know, the journey – it sounds cliché,” Pegula said during her press conference after her victory. “(But) the journey makes it all that much sweeter. I’ve worked really hard. So, to kind of push through this week and really push myself to the limit to – you know, stronger than I kind of almost thought I was at time, really makes it – it’s amazing. I’m excited.”
After stringing together five quality match wins in the nation’s capital – including triumphs over No. 41 Katerina Siniakova, No. 66 Iga Swiatek, and No. 75 Lauren Davis – that culminated with her finally winning that elusive first title, Pegula motioned for her miniature Australian Shepherd named “Maddie” to be included in the trophy presentation. The tournament volunteers had even made her dog a credential. “They put K-9 Champion on it after I won,” Pegula said. She brought Maddie to the podium during her press conference and it brightened the room.
Asked what her game plan was against Giorgi, whom she owned a 2-1 lifetime win-loss record against but hadn’t faced since 2012, Pegula said, “She plays so fast and quick, I didn’t want to let her dictate the points. So, I just tried to, you know, really use my legs, be ready for every single shot to come back fast and hard, but also kind of try to do that to her, as well, almost kind of not give her time to dictate points.”
Pegula won her first serve points with 81 percent efficiency (26 for 32) and saved the only break point she faced. Giorgi was far from impressive with either her first- or second-serve percentages – 58 percent and 31 percent, respectively – and Pegula broke her opponent four times. The American outpointed Giorgi 58-35 and did it in just 59 minutes.
“I have no problem with people who are hitting fast and hard at me,” Pegula said. “So, it was definitely part of my game plan not to give her too much time to think out there and not let her get into timing, and also first serve, for sure.”
As for Giorgi, she preferred to take a long view at the outcome, chocking up the loss as a good learning experience to help her prepare for the rest of the hardcourt season. “I focus on improving each tournament,” she said.
— WTA (@WTA) August 4, 2019
Looking back, after Pegula secured arguably the biggest victory of her career, she dropped to one knee for just a moment and started to cry. It was an entirely appropriate emotion to display when you consider that she underwent knee surgery in 2014, then dealt with a serious leg injury two years later, and finally underwent hip surgery in 2017.
When she was asked about it, Pegula told Tennis TourTalk, “I think a lot of players would say they visualize the moments that they’re winning. But, yeah, I definitely … visualized what it would be like to win a big tournament, even big matches. Those moments, that’s what you’re really playing for.”
Now healthy, Pegula is a proven survivor and her five match victories this week exceed the four wins she amassed prior to this tournament. She even admitted that winning the Citi Open represented her first title “at any level.” It will boost her ranking from No. 79 to No. 54 when the new WTA Rankings are released on Monday – a career-high mark.
“This week, it felt different. This final, I felt like I was just ready,” Pegula recalled. “I was like, ‘You know what? You’re going to go out there and you’re going to go win.’ And I felt confident in that.”
Once Pegula stood up after winning, with tears welling in her eyes, she waved appreciably to the crowd before hitting a celebratory ball into the main stadium stands with a big smile on her face. Later on, throughout the duration of her news conference, she remained smiling and upbeat, and was playful with Maddie.
“It’s been extremely gratifying,” she said. “I mean, this, is like what you work for, to win tournaments and to just win, basically.”