Twelve months ago, Jessica Pegula's debut at the WTA Finals couldn't have gone worse. The American qualified for the season-ending championships in singles and doubles, a feather achievement in her cap, but didn't win a match in either event.

Reflecting on her and Coco Gauff's (who also went 0-6 last year) return to the WTA's capstone event on its eve, Pegula said that the pair could parlay lessons learned from 2022 into a better experience in 2023.

“I think last year we were really burnt out,” Pegula told reporters Saturday. “It was probably an accumulation of doing a lot with singles and doubles, coming up along the end of the year, having a good year, but sometimes you’re not used to having that consistent, full year.

“I think we feel better this year. I have mentally prepared myself a little bit better on what to expect coming in here. Now that it’s not my first Finals, I know what to expect, I know what’s going to happen. Hopefully, I can use that as better preparation this year mentally and physically and have some better results.”

Consider the first box checked: Opening the tournament against Elena Rybakina in Bacalar Group play Sunday evening, the American won 10 of the last 12 games from 5-3 down in a 7-5, 6-2 victory.


If preparation was crucial coming in, another p-word was also integral to Pegula's one-hour, 23-minute win: poise. She handled the Kazakh's biggest weapon, her serve, with aplomb, breaking five times. While wind, a much-talked about weather condition in advance of Sunday's opening day, wasn't as much of a factor as expected, Rybakina still totaled 35 unforced errors (to Pegula's 16).

The American also dealt well with adversity in her game: Despite only landing 49% of her first serves in the win, she won 80% of the points played behind it, and defend her second well. She's now beaten the Wimbledon champion three times in four career meetings, and with a doubles match alongside Gauff still to come on Sunday evening, Pegula no doubt welcomed an efficient win, too.

"I've already done better than last year, so that's kind of a monkey off my back," Pegula said afterwards. "She's really tough and she's been playing some really great tennis ... there were a couple of errors that she made, and luckily, I was able to capitalize right at the right time and take that, and ride the momentum."

She now boasts 42 hard-court wins on the season, which leads the WTA, and is the early pace-setter in a group that also features world No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 8 seed Maria Sakkari.