Confident Pegula Making The Most Of Her Miami Open Opportunities

Jessica Pegula (photo: WTA Tour video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 31, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The last time a WTA player reached the semifinals at both Indian Wells and Miami was five years ago when former World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic accomplished the feat in 2017.

World No. 6 Paula Badosa of Spain had hoped to add herself to the “Sunshine Double” mix as she took court to play her quarterfinal match against No. 16 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States Wednesday afternoon in the Miami Open presented by Itaú at Hard Rock Stadium.

However, instead of continuing to blaze a trail in the upper half of the women’s draw, the No. 5 seed Badosa abruptly retired 18 minutes into her match – and after just five games – trailing Pegula 4-1, who won four games in a row after being broken to start the quarterfinal.

At the time of the retirement, Pegula had broken Badosa in each of the Spaniard’s first two service games while also outpointing her 18-7. Pegula won 10 of 17 service points and nine of 10 on her return. While there didn’t appear to be any visible physical ailment impeding Badosa, mentally, it seemed, she was fighting fatigue and illness.

One of the biggest hitters in the game and a great all-around player, Badosa came into her 22nd match of the season – and ninth this month – against Pegula already assured of achieving a career-high ranking next week as she rises to No. 3. Had she won, she would have secured the No. 2 position in next week’s WTA Rankings behind the new No. 1 Iga Swiatek. Instead, the 28-year-old Pegula is through to her second career WTA 1000 semifinal.

Pegula has yet to drop a set in reaching this year’s Miami Open semifinals. However, each of her last two wins have been the result of her opponent’s retirements. In Monday’s fourth round, she won when Ukraine’s Anna Kalinina retired after Pegula won the opening set 6-0.

“Of course, it’s not nice to win that way,” Pegula said during her on-court interview after the end of her quarterfinal match against Badosa. “It’s the first time I’ve ever even hit with her at all, and I was really looking forward to playing. She’s been having an amazing year and she’s an incredible competitor.

“I think we all saw that last round where she clearly wasn’t feeling well and she was able to tough it out [against Linda Fruhvirtova]. I admire that a lot about her.” Badosa defeated 16-year-old Czech wild card Linda Fruhvirtova 6-2, 6-3 Monday night. “Hopefully, next time when we both play, when we’re healthy and feeling good, we can have a great match.”

Pegula, who has enjoyed consecutive quarterfinal runs at the past two Australian Opens to go with a Top 20 debut, is looking to reach the biggest final of her career.

“The last two and a half, three years, I really just started getting healthy, which I think is so big nowadays,” Pegula admitted. “There’s so many good players and so much depth, that the ability to play week in and week out and find. Your rhythm is really important. For me, that was definitely the biggest thing, and then a couple [of] big wins started to come. That confidence comes with it, and you just try to keep that for as long as you can.”

Swiatek dominant in garnering 15th straight win

Next, Pegula will face No. 2 seed Swiatek. The 20-year-old Polish star, who is the highest-remaining seed in the women’s draw, gave a dominant performance in defeating No. 28 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-3 Wednesday evening for her WTA-leading 15th straight victory. The win improved her 2022 win-loss record to 24-3 – also best in the WTA – and advanced her to her fourth career WTA 1000 semifinal and third straight this season. Swiatek outpointed Kvitova, an eight-time titlist at the WTA 1000 level, 63-46, and did not face any break points on her serve.

“I want to use the confidence that I built since the beginning of Doha,” Swiatek said during her post-match interview on Stadium Court. “I think I’m on a roll and I want to use that. Having that kind of streak got pretty tricky, but I’m pretty glad that I could play well, that I’m healthy, and that I can compete against players like Petra. She’s a legend.”

With each outing, Swiatek keeps getting better and better. “We were wondering if Kvitova could be one of those players who could overpower Swiatek. We got our answer. Not yet! It’s remarkable she’s keeping up this motivation,” said Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport, who analyzed the Swiatek-Kvitova match for Tennis Channel in the United States. “It’s very tough.

“We’ve talked about all those wins in a row, the pressure of getting to No. 2, now the pressure of getting to No. 1. She’s still maintaining her composure, she’s still maintaining her motivation – and maintaining her incredibly high level of play. She played defense well, and this season, she’s playing offense like a seasoned veteran, finishing points and doing a very nice job of managing her service games. All aspects of her game improved during the off-season. That is something that is very hard to do.”

Sinner retires with foot blisters

Meanwhile, the bottom half of the men’s quarterfinals got under way in Hard Rock Stadium featuring Miami Open No. 9 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy against the surprise of the draw, 103rd-ranked Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina during the afternoon followed by 2018 Miami Open finalist and No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany against No. 6 seed Casper Ruud of Norway.

After just 23 minutes, Cerundolo advanced to the semifinals after Sinner was forced to retire due to foot blisters. The Argentine, who had served three aces and hit 10 winners overall, was leading 4-1.

“I didn’t know anything,” Cerundolo said during his on-court interview. He seemed as shocked and confused as the fans. “When I was serving at 3-1 (30-0), I saw him bending down. It was really strange. I didn’t see anything wrong and I hope he is OK. He is a great player. It means a lot [to advance]. It is everything I have dreamed of.”

Sinner arrived after savaging three match points against Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland in the second round and another five match points against Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta in the third round before defeating Australian bad boy Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round to reach his second career ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal, both at the Miami Open.

As for Cerundolo, he was playing in his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal. What’s pretty remarkable is Cerundolo, a clay court specialist, had never won a main draw hard-court match before arriving in Miami. Now, he’s through to a Masters 1000 semifinal on Friday.

Ruud finally masters Zverev in third try

During the night session quarterfinal, the World No. 8 Ruud sought his first win against Zverev in their third meeting and was successful. The 23-year-old Oslo native beat World No. 4 Zverev, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, in one hour and 38 minutes by playing solid tennis from beginning to end. He closed out his career-best victory with a perfect ace up the middle – his sixth of the match.

“I think I’ve seen Sascha play better than he did today, but I took advantage of it,” Ruud said during his post-match interview. “I was focussed, I was on top of my game and of course I had a little down period in the second, but I stayed focussed and served really well in the first and third sets. That was the key for the match, I think.”

Ruud came in with a 3-3 win-loss record in ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinals and had lost his last two (both last year at Cincinnati and Paris against Zverev), while Zverev, a five-time ATP Masters 1000 champion, arrived with a 12-8 mark in ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal appearances. On Wednesday evening, Ruud went to work immediately and raised the level of his game with an effective forehand. By the conclusion, he had won 79 percent (37 of 47 ) of his first-serve points and backed it with a 63-percent (10 of 16) clip on his second serve. Ruud was broken just twice while breaking Zverev two times. He outpointed Zverev 66-63 to advance against Cerundolo on Friday. The Ruud-Cerundolo winner will make his first ATP Masters 1000 final appearance.

“I think he [Ruud] is playing great tennis,” Zverev said Tuesday. “The way he beat Cameron Norrie on a hard court is quite impressive, and I think when he’s playing like that he can beat anybody.”

Wednesday’s Miami Open ATP results

Wednesday’s Miami Open WTA results

Thursday’s Miami Open order of play

Men’s and women’s doubles semifinals set

With men’s doubles No. 1 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, upset early, the men’s draw is up for grabs. No. 2 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain had yet to drop a set when they faced wild cards John Isner of the United States and Hubert Hurkacz of Poland on the Grandstand for a berth in the semifinals against the Aussie Special Ks – Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios.

As it turned out, Isner and Hurkacz powered their way to a 7-6 (7), 6-3 win in 90 minutes. They clinched it on an ace by Isner, which was his team’s ninth of the match.

Now, with the top two seeds gone, it leaves No. 6 seeds Neal Skupski of Great Britain and Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands as the only seeded team left. They will face Italy’s Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini in the other semifinal.

Meanwhile, the last two women’s doubles quarterfinals took place Wednesday afternoon on the Grandstand. In the first match, unseeded but very experienced Vera Zvonareva of Russia and Laura Siegemund of Germany rallied to beat unseeded Magda Linette of Poland and Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 3-6, 6-1, 10-7. In the other quarterfinal, No. 4 seeds Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, both of the United States, held off Alizé Cornet of France and Jil Teichmann of Switzerland to win 7-5, 6-7 (4), 10-7.

Next, Gauff and McNally will face No. 1 seeds Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and Elise Mertens of Belgium, while Siegemund and Zvonareva will oppose unseeded Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia and Yang Zhaoxuan of China.

By the numbers

Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo is the second from his country to reach an ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal in his debut. He joins Franco Davin, who reached the 1990 Hamburg quarterfinals in his first ATP Masters 1000 main draw appearance. Cerundulo is the 22nd different Argentine to advance to an ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal in the series history (from 1990).

“Quotable …”

“You know, if you reach all your dreams and goals, like, you know, I can relate. Like you always have to be every day ready to make the grind, to go out of bed, to practice for six, seven hours, and then eat, sleep, repeat. So, that takes a lot of energy, obviously.

“In a way, I relate to her. I mean, it’s everyone’s own story, you know. Someone wishes to play until 35. Someone wishes to play until 25. It’s very individual. But I also really found it really cool when Flavia Pennetta retired after winning the US Open. I mean, that was really cool. Why not? Why grind again if you just reached your biggest goal and you’re going out at your best?”

– World No. 28 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who was asked during a press conference Tuesday if her ideal way to retire was to go out as No. 1 like Ashleigh Barty did last week.