Jessica Pegula: Making A Big Name For Herself

Jessica Pegula (photo: DDF Tennis)

DUBAI/WASHINGTON, March 11, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

When most tennis fans think of the current state of American women’s tennis, the names that most quickly come to mind are Serena and Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Jennifer Brady and Coco Gauff. However, the one American who this year is surging and truly making a big name for herself is Jessica Pegula.

On Wednesday, for the second straight week, the Buffalo, N.Y.-native and daughter of the owners of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League and Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, beat World No. 6 Karolina Pliskova. In Doha last week, Pegula took out Pliskova in the quarterfinal round. This week, in Dubai, she did the damage a round earlier by a 6-0, 6-2 score in which she served a bagel set in 20 minutes.

“It’s definitely a weird feeling, I think, because I beat her in Doha and that was a big win, and to back it up the very next week, I definitely think I had more nerves because it’s almost like you’re kind of expected to win again,” the 36th-ranked Pegula said during a virtual media chat that included Tennis TourTalk. “Still, it’s a new week … and a totally different match, so I tried to think of it like that while knowing what I needed to do, stick with my game plan, and see what happens. It’s a weird feeling. I’m just glad I was able to handle it well.”

With previous quarterfinal runs at the Australian Open, in which she lost to Brady, and a semifinal finish at the Qatar Total Open in Doha, which was ended by eventual-champion Petra Kvitova, Pegula was ready to handle the pressure of facing Pliskova in the third round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. She now holds three wins over Top 10-ranked players this season. Over her last dozen matches, Pegula is 10-2. She’s 15-4 on the season, which includes coming through three rounds of qualifying last week in Doha just to make the main draw.

“After a 6-0 first set, I wasn’t surprised when she broke me the first game because I knew she’d start playing better at some point,” Pegula said. “I tried not to let that bother me too much. … Sometimes, when you’re playing well, it’s easy for things to slip and go in the other direction. Focusing on my game plan was how I stayed in the moment.”

As Pegula has aged – she’s 27 now – so has the maturity she displays on court, where she has one WTA tour-level title to her credit, the 2019 Citi Open in Washington, D.C. Her 2021 success that began in Melbourne has garnered a lot of attention from both casual and serious tennis fans. In the United States, Tennis Channel showed Pegula’s match against Pliskova, which came on the air at 3 a.m. Eastern Time.

“I definitely think I surprised myself a little bit with how well I’ve done. Just because I was definitely thinking about it, it’s hard to back up a good result like that or a breakthrough, especially going into Doha, I was in qualifying,” Pegula said. “Once I got through quallies, I started to relax a little bit more. But it’s tough mentally having to do that after playing on Rod Laver in the quarterfinals of a slam, now I’m on a side court and I’m playing three rounds just to get into the tournament. So, I’m glad that it happened because I think it’s good mentally, but definitely it was a weird feeling. I think I’ve settled in a little bit now and I feel like I’m pretty confident and have played some good matches. I’m happy that I’ve been able to back up those results.”

On Thursday, Pegula will try to reach her second straight semifinal when she faces No. 10 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium in the second quarterfinal match of the day on Centre Court. Later in the day, she and Bethanie Mattek-Sands will be on court together, where they are still alive in the doubles competition.

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