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What to say after another Rublev and Pegula quarterfinal exit? Ask their coaches
Both David Witt and Fernando Vicente were complimentary of their charges, even in painful defeat.
Published Jul 11, 2023
WATCH: Andrey Rublev Is "Proud Of Myself For The First Time" In A Major QF Loss
LONDON—Andrey Rublev and Jessica Pegula have eerily followed an identical path at the Slams lately. In their previous four in singles, they exited in the same round.
The trend continued at Wimbledon 2023 on a chilly, unsettled Tuesday as the duo fell in the much discussed stage of the quarterfinals.
Did we mention this was each of their first quarterfinal, too, at SW19?
Making the last eight is a benchmark often cited in tennis, one of the metrics used to define success. Let the record show that Rublev has now advanced to eight while Pegula saw her tally climb to six. Impressive stuff, unquestionably.
But for the two Top 10 regulars, it is a round they’ve long sought to eclipse.
Hours after Pegula lost a nailbiter to Marketa Vondrousova on No. 1 Court, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, Novak Djokovic overcame Rublev on Centre Court, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.
Pegula led 4-1 and held a break point for 5-1 in the final set in the pair’s first singles meeting. She was that close.
“I’m sure Jess is devastated just because she feels like she was playing so well, hitting the ball so clean, so positive, then to be in a position like that,” Pegula’s coach, David Witt, told TENNIS.com about 90 minutes after the quarterfinal ended. “On grass, it’s like, you blink, the next thing you know you lost three or four games.
“It was hard to watch and not because she played bad. She didn’t. Vondrousova raised her game and Jess just didn’t close.”
This was, by one statistical parameter, her finest opportunity to reach a major semifinal. Three other quarterfinal losses came against world No. 1s: Iga Swiatek twice—the Pole was upset herself on Tuesday—and Ashleigh Barty. Jen Brady owned a ranking edge over her pal at Pegula’s breakthrough 2021 Australian Open, while Victoria Azarenka topped her this year at the Australian Open. (Even though Pegula possessed the higher ranking, Azarenka won both her Grand Slams in Melbourne.)
Pegula’s 38-spot ranking edge over Vondrousova marked the biggest differential in her favor, although the left-hander is a Roland Garros finalist and Olympic silver medalist.
Witt hadn’t yet had a detailed look at the match numbers but suspected that Pegula’s first-serve percentage waned. He was right. The 57% marked the 29-year-old’s second-lowest tally of this tournament.
It was hard to watch and not because she played bad. She didn’t. Vondrousova raised her game and Jess just didn’t close. David Witt
Pegula contested her third-round doubles alongside regular partner Coco Gauff—losing to Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-3, to add to her woes—prior to chatting with reporters. She was indeed devastated.
“Sucks to lose that way, having the lead in the third,” Pegula began.
Asked if there was “one thing missing,” Pegula, never one to shy away from questions, replied: “I have no idea. I don't know. I was one game away today almost. I don't really know what the answer is.
“I keep putting myself in good positions, but I guess it's not enough. I guess I was closer today. I really don't know.”
By the end of her briefing, Pegula was able to take pride in her grass-court progress given her predicament 12 months ago.
“A year ago when I came here, I didn’t have any warm-up. My mom basically almost died,” she said, referring to mom Kim’s cardiac arrest. “I think a year coming around to make quarters, to see that she’s able to watch my match was a huge success for myself and for my family.
“Looking at the positives, it feels like way longer than a year, but it's only been a year.”
Rublev faced an altogether different task, trying to beat a seven-time Wimbledon champion and 23-time Grand Slam winner who hasn’t lost on Centre Court in more than 10 years. Others he has encountered in major quarterfinals include chum Daniil Medvedev twice, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Rafael Nadal and a Frances Tiafoe fueled by the home fans in New York.
They say “it’s the hope that kills you.” Rublev must have had a little after claiming the opening set and having three break points as Djokovic served at 5-4 in the third. But the Serb saved all three.
Djokovic wasn’t as eye-catching in the stats as opposed to Marin Cilic in the Croatian’s five-set win over Rublev in last year’s French Open quarterfinal—hitting 33 aces and 88 winners—yet typically produced when the tension escalated. He saved seven of eight break points and broke in five of the seven games he created break points. Rublev, however, kept his normally fiery temper in check, an area the Russian and his team constantly work on.
Diving from behind the baseline to produce a forehand winner against Alexander Bublik in one of Centre Court’s standout shots in the fourth round, Rublev didn’t quit against Djokovic, either, even diving on the last point on Tuesday in an attempt to get to his opponent’s volley.
“I feel my first quarterfinal that I feel proud of myself,” said Rublev to reporters. “Then, of course, you wanted to win. I was doing everything to try to win this match.
Coach Fernando Vicente was proud, too, exchanging a hug with Rublev in the player garden prior to his charge fulfilling his media commitments.
“If you compare the way he lost in the other quarterfinals or the way he was behaving—you can talk about tennis, you can talk about mental strength—I think he is going well, improved a lot,” said Vicente, like Witt a former pro, to TENNIS.com. “He’s working. It’s not easy for him to change one day from zero to 100, but this tournament I’m really, really proud.
“To win these tournaments if you do not have that stable mental strength you cannot win, so I think he understood and he is trying.”
Pegula and Rublev will keep on trying to overcome the quarterfinal hurdle. Odds are that it will happen at some point—maybe even at the same Grand Slam.