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Jessica Pegula shares secret to remarkable consistency ahead of US Open homecoming
Pegula began the summer in pole position as top American and only continued that momentum with impressive results in Toronto and Cincinnati.
Published Aug 24, 2022
WATCH: Pegula reached her sixth quarterfinal of 2022 at the Western & Southern Open—all six have come at the WTA 1000 level or higher.
Jessica Pegula was over underperforming.
A talented ballstriker perennially snake-bitten by injuries, the American was just beginning to find her stride when she found herself sidelined once more due to 2020's global pandemic.
Pegula, who had at last cracked the Top 100 a season prior, could have considered pivoting away from professional tennis. The daughter of an entrepreneur mother and Buffalo Bills-owning father, Jessie had created a full life outside the game, one that now includes a husband and a growing skin care business. Rather than continue her uncanny metamorphosis into a Real Housewife, she became more determined than ever to finish what she started pre-pandemic—particularly where it mattered most.
“I hadn’t been doing so well at the Slams and thinking, ‘Ok, I am done losing in the first round of Grand Slams. I’m done,’ the now-28-year-old told me at the Citi Open, the site of her first title back in 2019, earlier this month.
She had lost her last six major main-draw matches, to be exact—a losing streak that dated back to her lone victory at the 2015 US Open.
“I always have those memories of just the energy of New York City, the kind of hustle and bustle of the city, and just the fans. It’s so much fun to be an American playing there. They get rowdy and crazy in a way that’s so special.”
There would be no fans cheering her on at the first post-pandemic major; Pegula was left to make her own magic against an in-form Marie Bouzkova under the flood lights of Court 15.
“She’d come off of a really good tournament so I was thinking how tough of a first round it was.”
But while most of the field was still rusty after four months away from match play, Pegula had enjoyed a COVID-safe engagement with World TeamTennis, a decision that paid dividends when she returned to action and not only reached the quarterfinals at the relocated Western & Southern Open but also snapped her Slam losing streak in a final-set tiebreak over Bouzkova.
“We didn’t finish until close to midnight. It was pitch black on this back court, but sometimes those make the best memories, and that’s what it takes to make those moments.”
Pegula has approached each subsequent milestone with that same grit and grace, allowing her to build a resume that includes back-to-back Australian Open quarterfinals, a first Roland Garros quarterfinal, and four WTA 1000 semifinals—including one final at the Mutua Madrid Open—all of which firmly ensconces her inside the world’s Top 10.
“I’m managing it one day at a time!” she says with a mix of humility and disbelief. “There’s been so many different challenges. When I broke through and did really well in Australia, it was like, ‘Ok, but how am I going to do after this?’ and ‘Am I going to be able to back it up?’ I had to fight through that and with every big result the same thing would happen: always wondering how I’m going to be able to deal with these new challenges.
“I feel like I’ve done a really good job of handling all of it, but there’s always new challenges: this summer and this year, it’ll be the pressure of being in the Top 10 and being expected to win, or even being a favorite to try and win a Grand Slam—especially playing in the U.S. as an American. That’ll just be another challenge I’ll have to learn to deal with, and hopefully I can get through.”
I went once when I was a pretty young kid, and I remember a lot of the typical things: I had the big tennis ball and wanted to get an autograph from everyone, even if I didn’t know who they were. The same thing happened to me yesterday, when a kid asked me for an autograph and asked me my name. I was like, ‘Come on, you don’t know my name?’ but I used to do the same thing to players! Jessica Pegula on her first US Open
Pegula has only continued to thrive in the face of adversity: after exiting in the Citi Open’s second round, she reached the semis and quarterfinals at her next two events in Canada and Cincinnati—of her six quarterfinals this season, all have come at the WTA 1000 level or higher. She’s been similarly successful in doubles, finishing runner-up at Roland Garros with Coco Gauff and helping her young compatriot earn the No. 1 ranking with a winning week in Toronto.
At a time when many top-ranked players struggle to back up big results, Pegula, who once struggled to play a full season due to persistent knee and hip injuries, has become one of the game’s most consistent forces.
“I really try to treat every match the same,” she said when asked the secret to her remarkable run of form. “I think I have a lot of respect for every opponent I play; I know that on any given day, they can play well and I can have an off day. I think, no matter who I’m playing, I don’t want to take that for granted.
“That mindset can prevent lapses, but it’s easier said than done. I think I just do a good job of staying focused on the things I need to do, and playing those mental games with myself as far as who I’m playing, what the draw looks like, and how to get through each week.”
Pegula next heads to New York as a Top 8 seed for what will be the ultimate full-circle moment: from the young kid roaming the grounds to ask anonymous players for autographs; to the frustrated athlete playing through a pandemic; to competing at her home Slam as the No. 1 American—one more accolade the Buffalo native refuses to take for granted.
“If you asked me that a few years ago, I definitely wouldn’t have thought I’d ever be the top-ranked American going into the US Open, especially with the deep crop of American women we have. It’s pretty awesome and I’m a little at a loss for words at time when I think about it.”
Amid a coterie of unpredictable rivals, fans know exactly what to expect from Jessica Pegula; the question instead is whether she can surpass her own expectations and end the Grand Slam season with her biggest result yet.