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Marketa Vondrousova rallies after roof closure, as Jessica Pegula falls to 0-6 in Grand Slam quarterfinals
The American had a break point for a 5-1 lead in the third set, before the Czech swept the final five games.
Published Jul 11, 2023
"I think Pegula is having quarterfinals nightmares," Pam Shriver said during ESPN's broadcast of the American's Wimbledon quarterfinal match against the unseeded but underrated Marketa Vondrousova. It was late in the first set, and Jessica Pegula, the fourth seed at The Championships, was about to finish the 6-4 set with 13 unforced errors and just three winners.
Add in the fact that Pegula led that set 2-0, and that she came into this match 0-5 in the elite eight at majors—winning just one set during that stretch, and losing her last 10—and the phrasing was spot on.
In the second set, with Pegula returning at deuce while leading 1-0, she opted to slice a short backhand to Vondrousova's potent forehand side. On serve and during rallies, the Czech was hitting off her preferred wing not unlike her compatriot, Petra Kvitova—a two-time Wimbledon champion.
"Just a nightmare," Shriver said, after Pegula lost the point.
On the next point, Pegula opted to stop a rally when she—incorrectly—believed a Vondrousova groundstroke landed out. By pro tennis standards, it was well in.
For Pegula, it was getting late, when nightmares tend to happen, and quickly.
Pegula woke up, but not without some bad memories. After holding for 2-1, she earned triple break point. Her flat groundies were singeing off the turf and, most importantly, landing in between the lines. Except for her second break chance, at 15-40. After a stray forehand return strayed well long, Shriver couldn't help herself: "That's a nightmare unforced error."
But Pegula would break serve, and that dose of necessary confidence served her well through the rest of the second set. The world No. 4 in singles and world No. 3 in doubles was playing like the ideal combination of both: swinging big and loose to open up the court—her flat strokes barely bouncing off the grass—and deftly controlling points when she came to net. None of Pegula's tactics were automatic, and Vondrousova's effort never flagged. But the more games Pegula played, and the more time she spent on court—something she unapologetically loves—the better.
"I think she's made more of a commitment to step up and take mid-court shots and follow them up to the net," said ESPN's Mary Jo Fernandez. "Her court positioning has been a lot better than the first [set]."
Returning at 2-5, Pegula earned another triple break point. Again, she lost the first two. But again, she converted the third, this time with a volley winner, her 12th successful point at net.
"That second set was the best set of tennis she played the entire tournament," said Fernandez.
Playing "perhaps the most important set" of her career, according to Shriver (agreed), Pegula saved two break points in her first service game of the decider, and held. At 1-1, she saved another break point and held.
And then, Pegula earned some break points of her own. Converting her first chance at 2-1, 15-40 with a steady diet of big backhands, she was never closer to reaching that elusive Grand Slam semifinal.
And then, the rain came.
Keeping loose indoors during an extended delay to close the roof on No. 1 Court, Pegula bobbed and weaved, visualizing in her mind with headphones on her ears. Picking up right where she left off, Pegula held at 15 for 4-1, in "full flight," per Shriver, during a 17-shot rally she won. She then earned a break point for a 5-1 lead—essentially match point.
Pegula's subsequent backhand unforced error sparked a three-game run for Vondrousova, and suddenly, it was 4-4. Given new life, Vondrousova, a former Roland Garros runner-up and Olympic singles silver medalist, was emboldened and taking charge. She easily matched if not surpassed Pegula's pace during rallies, and targeted the American's backhand relentlessly.
They both played their best on another pivotal point: at deuce, 4-4. That 31-shot rally went Pegula's way. But in a sign of things to come, and emblematic of much of this match, Vondrousova immediately stabilized and won the next point.
In the end, Pegula was done in by another unforced error, this time with her forehand. Trying to match her opponent's aggression, Pegula hit long down break point, and Vondrousova served for a spot in the semis.
Seemingly having overcome her biggest obstacle, Vondrousova had little trouble closing out the match with a hold at 15. Pegula will have trouble falling asleep after this one, while Vondrousova's dream run continues.